All carbohydrates are made up of sugars, which can be arranged into simple or complex forms. The body breaks all carbohydrates down into the simple sugar glucose, but different carbohydrates get broken down at different rates. Healthy carbohydrates contain fibre or complex sugar structures that take longer to digest, modulating their impact on blood sugar levels.
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Whole grains are grains that have not been stripped of fibre and nutrients through refining. Examples include wholewheat, rye, oats and barley. Most whole grains include high levels of insoluble fibre, which pass through the digestive tract intact, bulking up stool and helping prevent constipation. Oats also provide soluble fibre, the kind that helps lower blood pressure and protect heart health. Products made with whole grains should include it first on the ingredient list.
Vegetables contain insoluble fibre that slows digestion whilst also providing nutrients and phytochemicals that can boost overall health. The carbohydrate content of vegetables tends to be fairly low per serving because of all of the insoluble fibre and water, so you can eat a lot of vegetables at one time without causing blood glucose to go out of control. The nutrient density of vegetables is also high, so they contain a lot of vitamins and minerals per serving.
Fruits are a healthy carbohydrate source that provide fibre and plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Although many of the carbohydrates found in fruit are made up of the simple sugar fructose, the high fibre and water content in fruit cause it to be low in sugars per serving. Whole fresh fruit tends to be healthiest, although frozen, canned or dried fruit can be used as alternatives. Because of its sweet taste, fruit can be used as a substitute for sweet snacks and desserts that contain unhealthy carbohydrates.
The carbohydrates in pulses are digested slowly, which keeps blood sugar from spiking. Pulses are also a source of protein, nutrients and both insoluble and soluble fibre. Pulses can be used in place of meat in a vegetarian meal, consumed as a side dish or added as an ingredient in other dishes.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are sources of soluble fibre and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These components slow the breakdown of carbohydrates in nuts and seeds and provide healthy properties of their own as well. Because of their high fat and calorie content, limit nut consumption to only a handful or two each day.
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