June 11, 2021

while no macronutrient gains as much debate or misinformation, carbohydrates play a really important role in the body. as well as being a major source of energy, they also provide our bodies with dietary fibre (associated with a wealth of health benefits), support healthy hormone balance, especially in women, and contain a whole host of vitamins, minerals and disease fighting antioxidants. the issue is not all carbs were created equal, and therefore it is essential to choose healthy carbs to gain the benefits on offer and in appropriate portions.


so, what are carbs?

carbohydrates can be broadly broken down into;

  • simple (sugars) which include glucose, fructose, galactose, maltose, sucrose and lactose
  • complex carbohydrates (starches)
  • dietary fibre

low GI?

the glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of the speed in which individual carbohydrate foods hit the bloodstream. the lower the GI is of a food, the slower it releases glucose, resulting in steady and sustained energy levels. on the contrary, foods with a high GI release glucose quickly and cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.

complex carbs are typically low GI and provide a slow release of glucose for sustained energy. when we eat carbohydrates, we receive some glucose needed for immediate energy and the remainder gets converted and stored as glycogen (for our reserve stores). complex carbs come from a variety of sources, with wholegrains being top of the list. rich in essential nutrients and dietary fibre, it is recommended we include a variety of wholegrains and/or wholegrain products in our diet.

other sources of healthy carbs?

we also get healthy carbs from other food groups including fruit and veggies, especially starchy veggies such as potato, sweet potato and corn and higher sugar fruits such as apples, pears and bananas. likewise, legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, peas) are also considered a vegetable and are an excellent source of low GI, fibre rich carbohydrate. it is also important to note that most carb rich food contain a mix of carbs, protein and fat (even grains) and carbs are found in almost everything. for example, even dairy products such as milk and yoghurt contain carbs!


so how many serves should we be eating?

dietary guidelines suggest we that approximately 45-65% of our dietary intake is from carbohydrate. regarding wholegrains, the Australian guidelines suggesting anywhere from 3-6 serves per day (or more for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers), dependent upon age. other factors such as activity levels will also affect requirements. regardless of individual intake, we should be choosing wholegrains and wholegrain products over refined grains and processed foods.

how to identify wholegrains?

checking the ingredients list on grain-based products is a great way to check if a product is indeed wholegrain. the first ingredient should be listed as wholegrain or wholemeal, which could also appear as

whole wheat/whole [name of grain]

stoneground whole [name of grain]

wholemeal flour

brown, wild, black, purple or red rice

oats, oatmeal


malted whole grain

sprouted whole grains





**wholemeal - wholegrain bread is made from wholemeal flour plus added wholegrains and has more fibre and nutrients than straight wholemeal or wholegrain bread.


and what is a serve of carbs?




1 serve equals

amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, burghul, freekeh, millet, quinoa, wholemeal couscous

½ cup cooked

rolled oats, barley flakes, quinoa flakes

½ cup cooked or ¼ cup uncooked

wholegrain products




bread roll (wholegrain/wholemeal)

½ medium

bread slice (wholegrain/wholemeal)

1 slice

breakfast cereal flaked (wholegrain)

2/3 cup

brown rice cakes or wholegrain corn thins


flour, wholemeal or wholegrains (such as buckwheat, quinoa, rye)

¼ cup

muesli (wholegrain)

¼ cup

pasta (wholemeal, buckwheat, spelt, pulse)

½ cup cooked

sourdough bread (wholegrain, wholemeal)

1 slice

wraps (wholegrain, wholemeal) or small flat bread

1 small



carb rich vegetables


potato, sweet potato or parsnip mash

½ cup cooked

small new potatoes


sweet corn

½ cob



and the not so healthy carbs

unfortunately, carbs often get a bad name due to their highly processed versions. refined grains (such as refined wheat, white rice) have had their nutrient and fibre rich outer layers removed, making them predominately starch and nutritionally inferior to wholegrains. refined grains are then used to make products such as white bread, white pasta, commercially made cakes, biscuits and snack bars. you simply cannot compare ½ cup brown rice with a slice of white bread or a choc chip muffin!


processed foods that are high in sugar are also a source of ‘hidden’ unhealthy carbs. These include confectionary, chocolate (excluding 70% cocoa and above), soft drinks, fruit juices, flavoured milks, sweetened yoghurts and many commercially made sauces. We should aim to reduce our intake of these carbs.


take home message?
carbs are an important and essential part of the diet, and do not need to be avoided. however, the modern Western diet tends to be heavily carbohydrate dominant and is often high in processed versions. it therefore makes sense that to gain the most benefits it is important to choose a variety of healthy carbs (wholegrains, fruit, veg and legumes) and minimise our intake of processed foods.



Article formulated for HUSTL. HEALTH.
Created by ®Chrissy Freer