About a third of our diet should be made up of carbohydrates, with wholegrain versions recommended. What should we be looking for and why?
The NHS Eatwell Guide suggests we “base one third of our diet around potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates, choosing wholegrain versions where possible”.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, alongside fats and proteins. Our bodies break down carbs into glucose, their main source of energy. There are three types of carbohydrate: sugar, starch and fibre.
- Sugars are found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables but also added in manufacturing processes to many foods
- Starches are found in bread, potatoes, rice and pasta
- Fibre is found in fruit, veg, wholegrains and pulses
The Eatwell Guide recommends eating wholegrain starchy carbohydrates as they’re good sources of fibre. Research suggests that diets high in fibre may have health benefits such as reduced risk of CVD, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Some types of fibre have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Foods that are high in fibre also add bulk to meals and help us feel full. So, eating high fibre foods can reduce the number of calories in our diet which can help us maintain a healthy weight. Starchy foods also have a range of other nutrients including vitamins and minerals. Eliminating them entirely means we can be missing out on key nutrients.
Quality and quantity of the carbs you consume are key. High fibre foods have a steadier effect on blood glucose than processed, sugary foods and may help to feel fuller for longer. This can help you remain in control of your appetite and on track with your weight loss ambitions.
What’s so special about wholegrains?
Cereal plants such as wheat, rye, barley, oats and rice have grains. These grains are made up of three parts: the fibre-rich outer layer (bran), the nutrient packed inner layer (the germ) and the central starchy part (the endosperm). Usually, the two outer layers have been removed from refined carbohydrates, leaving only the central starchy part. Wholegrain foods contain all three parts of the grain, meaning they have additional fibre, vitamins and minerals. The fibre in whole grains offers:
- Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
- Improved gut health and reduced risk of colorectal cancer
- A satiating, full feeling which can help reduce overall intake of food which may help us maintain a healthy weight.
How can we include more wholegrains in our diets?
Here are some good sources of wholegrain starchy carbohydrate:
- 1 slice of wholegrain bread, 1 small wholemeal roll or 1 small wholewheat tortilla
- 2 oatcakes
- 1 heaped tablespoon of uncooked oats
- 3 heaped tablespoons of wholegrain breakfast cereals
- 2 heaped tablespoons of cooked brown rice, wholegrain pasta, bulgar wheat or quinoa
Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown breads provide energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Although white bread does contain vitamins and minerals, it tends to contain less fibre than wholegrain bread. Wholemeal pitta and tortillas are also now widely available.
Wholegrain cereals also contribute to our intake of vitamins and minerals and fibre. Lots of breakfast cereals contain refined carbohydrates and added sugar. It’s always a good idea to compare food labels to find the healthier options. Try mixing a wholegrain cereal with your usual cereal and see what you think.
Rice and grains: These are an affordable source of low-fat energy. This includes brown rice, bulgar wheat and wholewheat couscous. They’re versatile as they can be eaten hot or cold and make a great addition to many meals.
Swaps can be made without any hassle on our weekly shop by simply looking for the word ‘wholegrain’ on food labels.