Whole grain cereal

Basic nutrition 101: Carbohydrates

5 things you need to know about carbohydrates.

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1) Carbohydrates are a macronutrient!

Aside from fat and protein, carbohydrates are 1 of the 3 essential macronutrients.

It is a compound made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms and hence “carbohydrates”.

As plants create carbohydrates in the form of starch for their daily energy needs, we consume carbohydrates for our daily energy needs too!

Of our entire daily caloric intake, 50-60% should come from carbs!

2) Rice and noodles aren’t the only carbohydrates in your diet!

When I mention the word carb to most people, the first images that comes to mind, at the very least, in the Asian context, is rice and noodles.

And with the stream of food demonizing trends going all over the world, many have come to conclude that carbs are indeed bad, and as such, have started preaching the gospel of “Thou shalt not eat rice/noodles”.

Be it for weight loss, health scepticism or whatever reasons, that simply isn’t sound science.

Demonizing carbs to be bad and to completely avoid it, that simply isn’t sound science

But before I go into that, let’s really investigate the sources of carbohydrates.

Let’s start easy, anything starchy is generally carbs.

Grains, Legumes, Wheat are all fine examples

But so are, pumpkins, potatoes and parsnips. Yes, those are vegetables, but not all vegetables are equal.

To add on, so are fruits, anything sweet generally is carb. Sugar, honey, agave nectar, syrup, and the list go on and on.

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So, starchy foods and vegetables, grains, and fruits are carbs. Got that?

3) Not all carbs are the same!

“You know ah boy, you don’t eat the white rice, the white rice will cause diabetes, you eat the brown rice, very good one!”

There are essentially 2 types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.

Generally simple carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are easily broken down into our bodies and release sugar for our bodies to absorb.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, have the hull still intact, and due to the extra breaking down necessary, it releases its sugar slower than its pristine counterpart, white rice.

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So, which is better?
Well, I’m glad you asked!

If we compare things from a package a view point

Using white vs brown rice again,
White rice has 3-4x less fibre compared to its tanned counterpart (Give or take depending on the type of rice), and in regard to its vitamins, brown rice also has more B vitamins and a few other minerals.

The other good examples are comparing table sugar vs fruits.

Both contains sugars, but the fruits have added fibre, vitamins and minerals while sugar, well, is just sugar.

So, yes, eating complex carbohydrates are better than eating refine or simple carbohydrates.

How to identify complex carbohydrates?
well, look for labels like whole wheat or unrefined, but more importantly, compare the fibre content on the nutritional label to its refined counterpart, the higher the fibre, generally the better the package.

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FYI, Starchy vegetables like root veggies, beans and legumes also fall into the category of complex carbohydrates!!

4) Carbs aren’t bad, mis portion is bad!

Now back to the statement,

“You know ah boy, you don’t eat the white rice, the white rice will cause diabetes, you eat the brown rice, very good one!”

White rice doesn’t cause diabetes, remember, correlation doesn’t necessary mean causation, it was just shown that people who had diabetes were eating white rice.

When it comes to health, it’s a whole package, lifestyle and stress factors included.

But let’s come back to carbs, so the truth is it’s not bad, we need carbs, people who don’t eat or cut off too much carbohydrates can be at risk of experiencing hypoglycaemia (fancy way of saying low blood sugar), and even worse case, if prolonged, can lead to death!

When it comes to obesity, overweight, diabetes and what not, it’s always the portion that’s the issue, not the food itself!

Yes, white rice has a higher glycemic index (rate of blood sugar spike) compared to brown rice but 45g worth of sugar in both white or brown rice is the same.

You can be eating brown rice all day every day and still get diabetes.

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The question always is, how much?

5) Your palm tells you everything.

Now I don’t believe in fortune telling or palm reading.

But I do believe in palm portioning

Assume your palm is about the size or 1/4 of a standard plate.

Your carbs should volumetrically fit into the size of your palm.

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This goes for fruits as well, a whole apple or whatever fits into your palm size. (twice a day)

The same goes for breakfast and your snacks, although for snacks or tea, you might wanna just limit it to 2 thirds of your palm size.

Remember, eat smart, live smart!


The advice provided here are for the benefits of the general public, they may or may not necessarily be tailored to your needs. To have your individual needs assessed and an intervention tailored made to you, please consult your local dietitian.

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