The great carb switch

In the world of weight loss and counting calories, carbohydrates have long been blamed as the food group that causes weight gain. However, not only is this not true, we should actually be consuming all food groups, including carbs, in order to have a balanced diet and to function optimally.

Instead of saying ‘No’ to carbs as an attempt at getting healthier, we should focus on getting better informed on portion sizes and which types of carbohydrates are healthier than others.

If you are trying to lose weight or simply interested to improve your nutrition, here are a few tips on how to improve the quality of your daily carbohydrate intake.

Ditch simple for complex

The main difference between simple carbs – such as white rice and processed foods like bread and pasta – and complex carbs – such as whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans – is that simple carbs are broken down quicker by the body to be used as energy, resulting in a quick boost followed by a drop. Complex carbs on the other hand, are processed by your body at a slower rate, allowing a more sustained release of energy and avoiding a spike-and-crash effect on your blood sugar.

The first step to choosing complex over simple carbs starts with your shopping habits. Instead of white rice or regular sandwich bread, go for brown or wholegrain options that are less processed and better for you. You can also inject a dose of ‘good carbs’ into your diet with the inclusion of starchy vegetables like potatoes.

However, be warned not to fall prey to clever marketing tactics; for example some bread loaves might be packaged to look healthy with ingredients like sunflower seeds or other grains baked into them, but in fact they are just as processed as white bread. Pay attention to labels, and best skip the aisles or sections with the ‘naughty carbs’ and zoom in on grains, beans, and wholewheat options.

Portion size matters

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We Malaysians are known to pile our plates with white rice or noodles, and make carbohydrates the centrepiece of our meals. Just like any other food group, your daily carb intake should be measured according to your personal situation such as how active your lifestyle is, whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, and most of all, your carbohydrates should be balanced out with your portion of protein and fibre.   

Remember that even if you’re eating ‘good carbohydrates’, you can have too much of a good thing! Best stick with the “everything in moderation” approach instead.

Remind yourself that sugar is a carb

When we think of carbs, we’re often thinking of the rice, noodles and pasta that we’re mentally portioning for lunch and dinner, but it’s important to remember that sugar is a carb too.

Food items like breakfast cereals are laden with sugar, and not to mention the cakes, cookies and other desserts that we treat ourselves to in a week. Oftentimes, the sugar content in our diet gets dismissed when we think of portioning our carbs, as we don’t register the sweets we’re snacking on the same way we register meal satisfaction after a main meal of rice or pasta. This also leads to unconscious replacement choices, such as eating too many sweets when trying to reduce other carbs, or vice versa.

Once again, instead of vowing to give up desserts for life (a promise that would likely fail, anyway), some better approaches to sugar include satisfying your sweet cravings with healthier options such as fruit, checking labels for sugar content on everyday foods like cereal and juice, and while you do deserve a bite of dessert every now and again, not to binge on sweets and baked goods too often.

Not all carbs are created equal

While you may rejoice at the fact that potatoes are considered a complex carb, keep in mind that some may be healthier than others, depending on the starch content according to the variety of spud. How you cook and serve your carbs also matters; French fries are technically potatoes, but the fact that they are deep fried and salted probably disqualifies them as a healthy choice.

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Sweet potatoes for example, are known to have a higher sugar content than other types of potatoes, but are also known to be high in fibre and nutrients, making them a worthwhile carb choice overall.

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