Millet Raabdi

Carbohydrates – Let’s make it complex

Of late it has become a custom to categorize all foods as either good or bad, foods that you can eat or avoid. 

And carbohydrate is not spared either. Carb has got a bad reputation, a culprit that causes weight issue and can cause diabetes.

As carbs make the base of many junk foods (chips, baked goodies, mithais, desserts) all carbs, get the bad name.

But wait.

Not all carbs are created equally. Our body handles Daal differently than it does Jalebis. There are good ones which take the cake (wholegrain, fruits, legumes, vegetables).

It depends on what type (Glycemic Index) of carb and how much (Glycemic load) of it you are eating to get the benefits of good carbs.

Highly processed snacks

Poor diet is a major cause behind the Covid-19 deaths and the Indians must urgently cut down on ultra-processed food to build resilience against the deadly virus. Beyond that, the other issue in Indian diet is that we have a very high intake of refined carbohydrate foods, these are also foods that are particularly harmful in excess because they raise glucose and insulin and therefore rooted in many of these chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – this involves too much consumption of flour and white rice.” a leading Indian-origin cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra in the UK has cautioned in this article here.

Causes for High-carb Indian diet:

  • Carbs are super cheap in India
  • Most of traditional Indian cooking revolves around carbs (rice/maida/aloo)
  • Fruits are always on the pricier side in India
  • More market and media push for junk foods/fast food
  • Eating out due to fasts paced life and little time to cook
  • Snacking on unhealthy foods (maida and sugar based)
  • Lack of awareness about the basics of nutrition
whole grain porridge

The mighty Carbs

Carbs are one of the important macronutrients we need to survive. The other two are protein and fats.

Carbs are body’s main source of energy and are important for brain function. It provides fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles.

Ideally 45-65% of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrate falls into three sub-categories:

  1. Sugar – short-chain glucose units broken down quickly into sugar. (Simple carbs) Eg. Fruit juice, honey, soft drinks, sweets.

2. Starches – long-chain glucose units that are slowly broken down. (Complex carbs) Eg. Multigrain Bread, potatoes,  cereal, legumes.

3. Fiber – type of carb which our body cannot digest or break down into sugar molecules. (Complex carbs) Eg. Whole-grain, raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds.

High-calorie snack

Simple carbs:  As the name implies, these are easy-to-digest basic sugars. These are simple structures and contain small chains of sugar. These are broken down quickly and give a burst of energy and a spike in blood sugar as soon as we eat them.

Foods with simple carbs most often contain added sugar and are devoid of fiber and other essential nutrients. Any sugar that is not used is converted into fat and stored giving rise to weight gain.

Processed foods with simple carbs to avoid:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries
  • White bread, burger, pizza base with maida
  • Indian sweets or mithais
  • Deep fried rice snacks (murrukku, tattai)
  • Sugary drinks
wholegrian khichdi

Complex Carb:

These include starch & fiber and are unrefined plant foods mostly in natural form that are low in added sugars and high in fiber. These are larger molecules and takes longer to digest causing a slow rise of blood sugar level.

Complex or good carb to include in your diet:

  • Unrefined whole grains – whole wheat or multigrain bread, brown rice, barley, quinoa, bran cereal, oatmeal
  • Grain-like foods – quinoa, millet
  • Starchy vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, yam, taro (arbi)
  • Non-starchy vegetables – spinach, green beans, Brussels sprouts, celery, tomatoes
  • Legumes – kidney beans, baked beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
  • Nuts – peanuts, cashews, walnuts
  • Fruit – apples, berries, citrus fruit, bananas, pears
healthy complex carb breakfast

Points to ponder:

  1. Be sure you’re choosing complex carbs over simple carbs.
  2. Good carb are unprocessed natural foods that are digested slowly, while bad carbs are highly processed food that are rapidly digested causing a spike in blood sugar.
  3. Good carb are high fiber content foods and Bad carbs are low fiber content foods.
  4. Fiber slows digestion and provide more sustained energy. Choose carbs with fiber.
  5. Limit simple carbs, such as sugar and refined flour which provide quick energy but are devoid of any nutrients and fibre.
  6. Avoid the 4 whites – sugar, maida, white rice, salt.
  7. Not all simple carbs are bad. Fruits, a simple carb in natural form is good for you as it provide many other essential nutrients apart from sugar (fructose).
  8. Pick good carbs that are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and avoid those which consists of just empty calories.
  9. The more active (workouts/athletes) you are the more carbs you require as the main source of fuel.
  10. The truth is no one food group can make you fat or is the cause of any health issues, but overindulging or over loading any one food group can.
  11. Balance and moderation are the key.
breakfast with seeds, wholegrain, fruits

Carb is an important macronutrient, don’t avoid it. The type of carb you eat plays an important role in overall health and the key is to choose the right carb.

Well, dietary habits are an incredibly personal thing. It is all about what works best for you on account of your health, lifestyle, environmental or ethical considerations.

No one will care about your health more than you. Take care of yourself and your immune system will take care of you!

Disclaimer

The following article is my interpretation of information I gathered from my nutritionist Ms. Payal Talesra, internet references and friends working in the same field. The views and nutritional advice expressed here are not intended to treat or to prevent and any disease or to replace the advice of your doctor. 

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