Blog > Understanding carbohydrates: friend and foe?

15 January 2015


Carbohydrates often receive some negative stigma, and have earned the perception of high-energy foods that are bad for you.

Understanding food groups is the key to eating well, and knowing how to balance your diet across all food categories will help you on your way to a healthier body, and better all-round wellbeing.

Eating the right amount of carbohydrate

If you don’t include enough carbohydrates in your diet, your body will start to break down fat and protein to get the sugar molecules it needs.
Eating the right amount of carbohydrate will prevent this, and this is vital so that your body can use the protein to perform vital functions for everyday and long-term health.

When you perform activities that raise your heart rate and use more energy, such as a long walk or rigorous exercise, your body requires more carbohydrates. However, if you eat more carbohydrates than your body uses, this will eventually lead to weight gain. Therefore understanding the amount as well as types of carbohydrates you need based upon your activity levels is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight, and to having enough energy in your body to avoid using your valuable protein stores.

Good and bad carbohydrates

Sugary foods like cakes and biscuits contain a lot of carbohydrates in simple sugar form. Eating a lot of these foods is harmful to your health because they often contain a large amount of fat.

Eating starchy foods containing complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain foods, will provide your body with slow releasing energy without as many ‘empty calories’ as sugary foods.

Wholegrain carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat bread, pasta and cereals, contain a lot of fibre and nutrients. Eating a balanced diet containing plenty of starchy, wholegrain carbohydrates will provide your body with more nutrients and fibre, and will keep your weight under control.

An easy way to include more wholegrain carbohydrate into your diet is to reduce the amount of meat in your meals and swap with beans or pulses, reducing the amount of fat you intake as well as providing higher levels of fibre and slow releasing energy, making you feel fuller for longer.

Around half the energy you consume should come from carbohydrates, so being more aware of the forms of carbohydrate you include in your diet could help you make healthier decisions to provide your body with the best form of fuel it needs.

The information in these pages is intended as general advice only. If you or your family member have any medical concerns, please contact your GP.

Source: NHS.UK - Obesity NHS.UK - Starchy Food