Eating a healthy, balanced diet along with taking regular exercise is key to physical and mental wellbeing. No foods should be considered as ‘good or bad’ as all foods play an important role in the diet. It is only when foods are eaten in excess that health problems result.
What you eat has an important impact on how you cope with daily activities. By choosing a carbohydrate-rich diet you will notice that you are able to keep going for longer and are less tired afterwards. Current scientific evidence shows that individuals who consume a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, tend to be lean rather than overweight or obese.
If you would like to lose some weight, don’t try starting a low energy diet and exercise programme together. It will leave you feeling tired, irritable and inclined to give up the whole idea. Instead, try boosting your carbohydrate and reducing your fat intake. You can then adjust the amounts you eat once you are in the habit of exercising.
Carbohydrates in a healthy balanced diet
A healthy balanced diet is essential for good health. The key to making our diet healthy and balanced is simply a variety of foods and everything in moderation. Moderation is important, because anything over-consumed will unbalance the diet and in the case of some nutrients – fat and alcohol in particular – could also lead to health problems. As for variety, this will not only make the diet more interesting and enjoyable, but will also help ensure that the requirements for all the micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – are met.
The balance part takes it a stage further and divides the key nutrients up into proportions. For health, over half (55%) of our energy intake should come from carbohydrates, and for regular exercisers this should increase to more like 60-70% of energy from carbohydrates. The rest of the diet should be made up by a bit of protein (around 12-15%) – about half of what most of us eat – and some fat (less than 30%).
A healthy diet is only half the story. At least as important to health is regular exercise. And choosing the right diet can help make exercise more enjoyable. Carbohydrates are particularly important in the diet of anyone who exercises regularly.
Carbohydrates are all the starches and sugars in the diet and they can be divided into three basic groups:
These are single molecules of sugar. The monosaccharides are:
Glucose is found in many fruits and is a component of most carbohydrate foods including sugars and starches. Most carbohydrates are eventually digested or converted into glucose by the body for energy (fuel). Fructose is also known as fruit sugar as it is found, along with other sugars, in fruits, vegetables and honey. It is mostly converted into glucose by the liver. Galactose is part of lactose, the sugar found in milk.
These are two linked sugar molecules which are broken down into the monosaccharides by digestion. The disaccharides are:
- Sucrose which is made up of glucose + fructose
- Lactose = glucose + galactose
- Maltose = glucose + glucose
Sucrose (table sugar) normally comes from sugar beet and cane, which happen to be rich sources of this natural sugar. But sucrose can also be found naturally in all fruits and vegetables, and even most herbs and spices. Lactose is found in milk and milk products. Maltose is formed when starch is broken down.
Starch is simply hundreds of molecules of glucose sugar joined together. When starch is digested, it is first broken down into maltose and then into glucose. So, the only difference between sugars and starch is the size of the molecule. Ultimately, most carbohydrates will end up as glucose to provide that vital energy fuel.