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22 August 2017
“Don’t eat white bread! It’s not good for you, wholegrain is so much better.”
“I cut down on rice because I want to lose weight. I heard too much rice can make you fat!”
It’s common to hear conversations like these when it comes to healthy eating or ways to lose weight. As Malaysians, we love our rice and noodles and it’s common to see these carbohydrate-filled dishes not only during lunch or dinner, but also breakfast and supper. But as more Malaysians become increasingly health conscious, many are taking it to the other extreme and eliminating all forms of carbs in an attempt to lose weight. However, carbs actually contain numerous health benefits and they should not be cut out of our diets completely.
To understand why carbohydrates or carbs get a bad rap, first we need to understand the two types of carbs: simple carbs and complex carbs. The first is made up of easily digestible simple sugars, which lend food its “sweet” taste. It raises blood sugar levels more quickly than complex carbs, and can be found in fruits, vegetables and processed foods. Meanwhile, complex carbs are made up of fibre and starches, which is what improves our digestive system and sustains the energy level in our body. Complex carbs can be found in legumes, roots and grains, but this is also inclusive of the highly-refined starches found in white bread and pastries.
When we consume simple sugars and highly-refined starches, our bodies store the calories from the food instead of burning them, which results in weight gain and increased blood sugar levels. But the right carbs are a great source of energy as well as a source of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In fact, they’re great for more than just that, here’s how:
Have you heard of serotonin? It’s one of the happiness hormones alongside endorphins and dopamine that helps us maintain our mood balance. Most carbs contain an amino acid known as tryptophan, and tryptophan actually helps to produce serotonin, thus, lifting our moods and making us feel happier.
Some believe that a low-carb diet lowers the risk of getting heart disease. However, research has found that people who eat more whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, have lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This is a key finding as LDL cholesterol is linked to higher risk of heart disease, while HDL works to reduce the risk.
Wait, but don’t carbs contribute to weight gain? If you’re busy eating cakes and sweet pastries all day long, then yes it does. However, research has also found that eating the right kind of carbs can encourage weight loss. Look out for carbs high in fibre as they are more filling, they prevent bloating, and they speed up your metabolism as well. The key is to look for quality carbs (a small serving of brown rice, for example) rather than quantity carbs (a large serving of white rice).
No-carb/low-carb diets have been linked to slower learning and thinking skills as well as memory problems. In fact, a study found that women who eliminated carbs from their diet did poorly on reaction time and suffered reduced visuospatial skills (such as the ability to maintain a visual map in our memory from trips we have made in the past).
With all that said, what carbs should you be eating then? These are some suggestions that you can keep in mind for a happier and healthier you!
1. Make whole grains your main
White rice may be unhealthy, but we don’t have to give up rice altogether. Opt for unpolished brown rice or basmati rice instead, which provides your body with the starch it needs, as well as other nutrients like fibre to control your blood sugar levels and manganese to aid your carbohydrate metabolism. If you enjoy trying new things, you can also replace your rice with other whole grains like rye (high in fibre), farro (high in protein and calcium) or quinoa (contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids).
2. Say hello to potatoes
You can also get your fill of healthy carbs from sweet potatoes! Their high potassium content has been proven to lower blood pressure and their subtle sweetness is perfect for curbing your sugar cravings. White potatoes are also great (unlike white bread and white rice which contain higher levels of refined starch). Aside from being a source of potassium and vitamin C, they also contain nearly 4 grams of fibre if you eat them with the skin on. This is actually 15% of the recommended daily allowance. So go ahead have roasted potatoes for dinner without feeling guilty – just go easy on the salt or seasoning.
3. Be sure to eat more chickpeas
Chickpeas are a type of legume that has a low glycaemic index, which can help keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy level. Their high iron and calcium content contribute to the health of your bones while their selenium content could offer protection against certain kinds of cancer. That’s not all! They also stabilise your hunger levels, thus allowing you to maintain better weight management.
4. Consider alternative carb sources
If you’re looking for other foods to load up on healthy carbs, you can consider fruits like bananas and berries! Bananas are a wonderful source of nutrients, inclusive of vitamin B6, manganese, potassium, and fibre. If you eat them while they’re slightly unripe, you’ll find that they’re also a good source of resistant starch which has been proven to be helpful for weight loss. On the other hand, berries are rich in vitamins, minerals, and they’re great not only for weight loss, but also for prevention of weight gain. The anthocyanins in berries also help keep diabetes at bay, while their high Vitamin C content lowers your cholesterol levels, thereby reducing risk of heart disease.
It’s hard to fully avoid carbs as they’re found in so many different types of food. So, don’t fear carbs, embrace them and let them help you get your health on the right track by protecting your brain, heart, and even your weight.
The above articles are intended for informational purposes only. AIA accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from reliance on information contained in the articles.
AIA Vitality is a unique insurance and health programme that actively supports and rewards you for making healthier choices every day so you can live a healthier, longer and better life.