We are told bread, pasta and orange juice are bad. How can we use healthy carbs in out diet?    Read More

A generation has been told bread, pasta and orange juice are bad. How can we use healthy carbs in out diet to our advantage in health and sport? What is the glycemic index?
It is true! Starch sugar, milk sugar, vegetable sugar and fruit sugar are part of the family of compounds called carbohydrates. Too much total carb in the diet can lead to obesity (excess body fat) and diabetes. However, too little of the right carbs can be harmful. Carbs in the diet supply our brain with glucose when we study or do any mental work. Carbs supply quick energy during exercise. Dietary fibre is also a carb in a very complex form that is indigestible in the human body. It forms the bulk in our stool and is essential for normal bowel function and evacuate of waste from our bodies.
Our body always tries to be sure we have enough carbs in our diet . We only have about 200 gms of carb total in our body. If we don't replace this everyday our body has some choices to make:
1. Borrow protein from our muscles and immune system to make more carb to keep us going.
2. Makes us binge-eat carbs until our system is reloaded. It takes 24 hours to re-load all our carbs after exercise greater than 30 minutes. Athletes will binge-eat every 3 days if they do not have enough carb in their diet.
3. We can eat some carbs at least every 4 hours every day to continuously replace the carbs we are using for daily routines and for exercise.
It is good to know what the classifications of carbohydrate are and what foods supply them. The chart below shows the difference between complex and simple carbs.


Type of Carb Definition Names on Labels Food Examples

  • Monosaccharides single carb units absorbed quickly on ingestion glucose Corn syrup, honey, fruit and vegetables, dextrose tablets, I.V. dextrose fructose High fructose corn syrup, honey, fruit and fruit juice
  • Galactose (rare) broken down milk sugar eg. yogurt, lactose-free milk
  • Disaccharides double units of carb absorbed at a medium rate on ingestion sucrose table sugar, cane or beet sugar and maple sugar, lactose milk sugar, cream and unfiltered whey
  • Maltose (rare) Malt sugar, spouting grains, partially digested starch
  • Oligosaccharides medium chains of carbs absorbed more slowly on ingestion Maltodextrin,raffinose, stachyose maltodextrins, used in sports gels and blocs, beans and legumes
  • Polysaccharides – digestible long chains of carbs absorbed more slowly on ingestion Starch (stored as glycogen in the body) breads, cereal, pasta, rice, potato, beans, flour and legumes
  • Polysaccharides - indigestible
  • Dietary fibre forms bulk in diet, allows gel formation in stools and water holding capacity Cellulose, lignin, pectin, psyillium, gums and mucilages Skins of fruit/veg/grains/nuts/legumes, citrus pulp, plantain and some tree fibres.

Glycemic Index (GI)

The glycemic index is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels compared to a standard food such as white bread or white sugar (100 GI index) . This is a way to classify the speed with which you receive glucose in a meal or snack.
Lower GI foods raise your blood glucose slower and lower. The best times to have these foods are when you want food to stay with you for a period of time eg meals that give you energy over several hours. Before an exam that is 3 hours long.
Higher GI foods raise your blood glucose faster and higher. The best time to take high GI foods is when you are very hungry or right after a sport for quick recovery.


(55 or less)
(choose at every meal)


(good choice)

More quickly absorbed HIGH GLYCEMIC INDEX FOODS

(choose less often in general diet)
Choose for recovery after sport or if you feel your blood sugar is low
Very fast absorption
Skim milk
Plain Yogurt
Soy beverage
Sweet potato
Oat bran bread
Oatmeal (slow cook oats)
Converted or Parboiled rice
Pumpernickel bread
Al dente (firm) pasta
Lentils/kidney/baked beans
Chick peas
New potatoes
Split pea or green pea soup
Brown rice
Basmati rice
Shredded wheat cereal
Whole wheat bread
Rye bread
Frozen yogurt
Dried dates
Instant mashed potatoes
Baked white potato
Instant rice
Corn Flakes™
Rice Krispies™
Bagel, white
Soda crackers
French fries
Ice cream
Digestive cookies
Table sugar (sucrose)

For more values on glycemic index, go to the Diabetes Care site 2008 to view International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2008

How much carbohydrate do I need in my diet?

Everyone has a different need for carbohydrate. An estimated minimum is 150 gms per day for some smaller, inactive people and up to 500 gms per day for taller active people. Most people do well with 200-300 gms of carb per day. The best way to determine your carbohydrate need is to undergo a nutritional assessment by a registered dietitian who will help you define your needs. As an active student, you will find a carb level that works for you now but it will change with your weight, exercise, age and lifestyle.
Counting Carbohydrate is an easy and effective way to receive enough carbs in your diet. The website of nutritionassessment.com can help you learn to count carbs in an effective way once you have done an assessment. Labels will tell you how much carbohydrate is in food. Look closely and it will tell you how much is fibre carbs and sugar carbs. The remaining carbs are starch carbs. The sugar carbs are made up of fruit sugar, milk sugar and table sugar .

Sharon Rady Rolfes, Kathryn Pinna, Ellie Whitney, Eighth Edition West, 2009. Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition‎