With the explosion of low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach earlier this decade, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap. The truth, however, is that carbohydrates are important fuel for our brains and our bodies, and they don’t necessarily deserve all the negative attention they’ve gotten.
Carbohydrates are found in grains, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and in foods with added sugar. Foods containing carbohydrates are often high in fibre and good sources of vitamins and minerals which are important parts of a healthful diet.
But not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some carbohydrates will raise blood glucose much higher than others, which is part of the reason some diets cut out the carbs. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels compared to a standard food such as glucose or white bread. Raised blood glucose levels are a measure of how quickly your body digests foods. This is influenced by many factors such as amount of processing and cooking, and the amount of fibre found in the foods. Research has shown that eating foods with a low GI may help you to control blood glucose levels, an important factor for people with diabetes.
The GI is a scale that measures how much and how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood glucose levels. Your goal is to stabilize your blood sugar level throughout the day and to prevent large “spikes” in your blood sugar levels. High GI foods tend to raise your blood glucose levels quickly and to a higher level than low GI foods.
Lower GI foods can help:
But why are diets that cut all carbohydrates from your diet? For one thing, carbs are essential for a healthy diet. They are the main source of energy for your body and the only nutrient that keeps your brain active. They’re often rich in fibre and anti-oxidants to help prevent disease. And, many carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, are low in calories and help to promote weight loss.
To eat the right kind of carbohydrates, try to eat those foods with a low GI most often, limiting the amount of foods with a high GI to the occasional treat.