What are the ‘right’ carbs for you?
If any of you were watching the Bermuda Day Half Marathon Derby last week, then you might have seen a couch on wheels flying by.
“Flying” is possibly an exaggeration. We did well for the first six miles and then the rubber burnt off our front wheels.
Once that happened, the metal rims wore down and so we made our way through Devonshire with sparks flying and a serious veer to the left!
The expletives kicked in around that point, so apologies if the language was colourful.
However, we made it to town, making an almighty racket along Front Street and then skidding over the finish line, literally on plastic. There is no way we would have made it another mile.
Well ... we would have, we would just have carried it because we're stubborn. But I'm glad we didn't have to.
It was supposed to be a one-off fundraiser but I have a feeling we'll do it again next year. We need a redo with industrial wheels and the carb-loading is a bonus! When it comes to carbs, I'm a huge fan. They can be an amazing source of antioxidants, fibre and fuel, but it pays to pick the right ones.
Even if you're carb-loading for an endurance event, it pays to pick slow-releasing ones such as beans, lentils, oats or brown rice, as these will better match your output.
You can add a layer of fast-releasing carbs on top for an energy boost during the event itself (gels, sports beans, maple syrup, bananas) but they should be reserved for high intensity activity, really.
Otherwise, you'll just keep putting pressure on your pancreas for a high-insulin output, which can eventually be problematic and contribute to disease. No one wants that!
To help make it easy, I've given you some quick tips below for managing your carbs.
The first four relate to everyone. But importantly, know that people react differently, metabolically, based on their genetics and also on their lifestyle.
It's important to realise that there shouldn't be a “one-size-fits-all” strategy when it comes to your intake, so the last two are important as well. Read on!
Which are the right carbs for you?
Choose carbs that are higher in fibre
For most people, unless you have a medical issue that dictates otherwise, it's a good idea to pick carbs that are higher in fibre. This means a simple switch from white rice to brown, white bread to wholegrain and so forth.
Other high-fibre carbs include beans/lentils, sweet potatoes (especially with their skins), other root veg like carrots, and butternut squash.
Whole oats and quinoa can be great too.
Fruit counts as a carb as it does contain fibre, but as it's sweet, I wouldn't have more than two to three servings daily. Focus on the savoury options!
Choose deeply pigmented carbs
Most of you will have heard the advice “eat a rainbow” — that doesn't mean you should dive into a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Choosing a carb like butternut squash versus white potatoes or rice is a great way to get the fibre but catch the antioxidants too!
Likewise, try replacing hummus and crackers, with hummus and peppers.
Or replace cookies with berries or a kiwi. The more deeply pigmented fresh produce is, the more antioxidants are present — and that's a good thing.
Ideally, pair carbs with protein
Whichever carbs you choose, it's a good idea to pair them with some protein.
Protein slows the release of sugar from the carbs you eat, meaning that you get more long-lasting energy. So, if you have fruit (carbs) then have a few nuts (protein) too.
If you have toast (carbs), have eggs or nut butter (protein). If you have a baked sweet potato (carbs), have grilled chicken. Get the idea? It's easy!
During sports events, choose clean carbs
If you need faster releasing carbs during intense exercise then it's OK to use energy gels, chews or beans but go with dye-free, “clean” versions.
I like the Bolt Chews by Probar (Supermart and Buzz) which I find way easier on the stomach than the gels in general. Give them a try if you are doing long runs or triathlon training!
Match your carbs to your activity
Carb portions should be modest unless your activity is pretty major. A general rule of thumb for most people is to have ¼ plate of carbs at lunch and dinner.
However, I grew up eating approximately half a plate of carbs (very English, so was usually potatoes, rice or pasta) but then our veg might have included carrots (carb) and we usually had fruit for dessert (also a carb). That's way too much at once!
If you are exercising a lot, try and fill up on an extra portion of very slow-releasing carbs like oats/oatcakes (I like the Nairns brand at Supermart) or beans/lentils. Avoid processed carbs like white bread, rice and pasta like the plague!
Consider your genetics
Some people carry genetic variants that mean their blood sugar is more likely to spike in response to carbs, and refined carbs especially.
This is one example of why two people can eat the same thing and exercise the same amount, but get different outcomes in terms of weight loss.
In the clinic, we use a test by Nutrigenomix that is exceptionally helpful for identifying predispositions to weight gain (it also looks at cardiometabolic risk factors among other things. It's so fascinating!).
Predispositions can be a bummer, but there's always a way to navigate them. Remember, genetics may load the gun, but it's lifestyle that fires the bullet!
• Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: www.natural.bm, 236-7511 or, on Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda