What are healthy carbohydrates? Firstly, carbohydrates are stored energy and are the most important source of food energy in the world, providing energy at the rate of 4kcal or 16kJ per gram (g). They are synthesised by plants from water and carbon dioxide, and are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They include polysaccharides such as starch, dextrins and glycogen, which are digested to glucose and sugars such as lactose, fructose and glucose.

Carbohydrates contribute important amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and sterols to the diet, and they provide between 40% and 80% of total food energy intake, depending on culture and socioeconomic status.

The key to eating the correct carbohydrates depends on whether you consume the ‘fast releasing’, as in sugar, sweets, and most refined foods, or ‘slow-releasing’, as in whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruit.

Please have a look at the ‘slow releasing’ carbohydrates below, that are also known as complex carbohydrates, as they contain more fibre, both of which help to slow down the release of sugar and decreases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The carbohydrates that break down quickly are ‘fast releasing’, and subsequently have a high glycaemic index value. These type of carbohydrates should be kept under control as they can raise risk for heart problems.

Starch & Fibre

Starch is a complex polysaccharide (carbohydrate) composed of glucose: the form of which carbohydrate is stored in the plant. Most green plants produce starch which they use as energy. The consumption of starchy foods is an important source of energy, because they also contain fibre, iron, calcium and B vitamins. The digestion of starch is broken down into glucose which we use as energy.

Complex carbohydrates comprise of starches and dietary fibre which have a range of textures, flavours, colours, and molecular structures. Our digestive system can’t break down and metabolise most starches, which are found in an array of grains, vegetables and some fruit.

Indigestible carbohydrate is called dietary fibre. This is a natural constituent of a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans and wholegrains. Fibre helps us maintain bowel health and keeps the digestive system healthy. There are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. All plants have both types of fibre: some foods have more then one than the other. We need both!

Free Sugars

Free sugars are any sugars that are added to food and drinks. Although the term is commonly used to refer to table sugar (sucrose), there are a large number of sugars; for example, fruit sugar (fructose), and grape (glucose), which are monosaccharides; malt sugar (maltose), milk sugar (lactose), and table sugar (sucrose) are disaccharides. Sucrose is extracted from the sugar beet or sugar cane, concentrated and refined. These sugars must be kept to a minimum as they can cause tooth decay, obesity and even poor sleep.

List of Healthy Carbohydrates

Below is a list of healthy carbohydrates that give you more bang for your buck! The values below are based on 100g when cooked. Remember, the outer layer of a grain, which contains the most fibre, is removed in the refining process. This is why you won’t see white rice, white pasta, or even white bread in the list below. To note, grains include nutrients such as protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Energy (kcal)Carbohydrate (g)Grains & SeedsProtein (g)Fibre (g)
12328Pearl Barley2.33.8
8319Bulgar Wheat3.14.5
11123Brown Rice2.61.8
10121Wild Rice4.02
Black Rice - TBC

External Links

  • Food Standards Agency: Starchy Carbohydrates
  • The truth about carbs – NHS
  • Reduced carbohydrate intake improves type 2 diabetics’ ability to regulate blood sugar – Science Daily
  • A diet high in carbohydrates (of more than 60% energy) is related to higher mortality
  • More information at Medline Plus
  • Studies have shown that eating moderate carbohydrate is better for longevity