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 & 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.

Vegetables and fruits are healthy carbs, but they don’t fill all of us up. Eating healthy carbohydrates in moderation seems to be optimal for health and longevity. Eating more plant-based proteins and fats from foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts, keep you full for longer and is linked to lower mortality.

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

They 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 healthier ‘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.

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), grape (glucose), which are monosaccharides; malt sugar (maltose), milk sugar (lactose), which are disaccharides. Table sugar (sucrose) is extracted from the sugar beet or sugar cane, concentrated and refined.


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 have a range of textures, flavours, colours and molecular structures. These carbohydrates are classified as starches or fibre. Our digestive system can’t break down and metabolise most starches, which are found in an array or 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 whole grains. There are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. All plants have both types of fibre; some foods have more than one than the other. We need both!


Fibre helps us maintain bowel health, it relieves symptoms of diverticulosis & haemorrhoids, and lowers cholesterol levels. However, excessive fibre intake may interfere with the absorption of minerals, cause bloating, gas and constipation.

Amongst the list below other food sources of fibre come from broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, nuts, strawberries, apricots, pears and carrots.

The following gluten-free grains play a part in achieving a balanced diet:

  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Cornmeal
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Teff

Grains include nutrients such as protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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.

Grains & Seeds

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 Information

The truth about carbs – NHS

Reduced carbohydrate intake improves type 2 diabetics’ ability to regulate blood sugar – Science Daily

Carbohydrates and Health – Gov.Uk

Nutrition Labelling – Food Standards Agency

Please visit SKF Recipes for some healthy ideas

Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health – Science Daily

Recommended book: Essentials of Human Nutrition

A diet high in carbohydrates (of more than 60% energy) is related to higher mortality.