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Starchy carbohydrates are a wonderful thing – they make us feel happy, satisfied and energetic, and quite simply, we need carbohydrates in our diet as they provide a large proportion of the energy we need to move our bodies, and the fuel our organs need to function.
12 simply superb super foods
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How do you like your eggs in the morning? We like ours every which way because they’re a great source of protein, plus many other essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium, which in turn keeps our bones healthy.
Plus, we all crave and enjoy them. This article exists to help you understand what carbohydrates are, which ones we should be eating, and to dispel all those myths that are giving carbs a bad name. If you know how carbohydrates both work within and affect our bodies, and just why we need them, you can have a much healthier attitude towards them and not buy into a faddy no-carb diet that I’m sure you’ll end up crashing out of.
What are carbohydrates?
It’s important to recognise that not all carbs are equal – this is where I think the confusion lies. Carbohydrates are either sugars, starch that will eventually be broken down into glucose (a form of sugar) in the gut, or dietary fibre, which we can’t break down. So, it’s the type and how we consume them that has most impact.
Let me break it down how I see it. Foods that are rich in carbs fall into four main categories:
- Simple sugars – white and brown sugar, honey, maple syrup
- White complex carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice, flour, cereal
- Wholemeal and wholewheat complex carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice, flour, cereal
- Vegetables and fruit – root veg in particular, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, swede, turnips, parsnips
What carbs should we be eating?
Simple carbs, such as white refined sugar or sugary processed foods and drinks, can be digested really quickly and are empty calories, giving us a blood sugar spike followed by an energy low that can leave us feeling sluggish. Eating more complex carbohydrates is key – they take longer to break down, are slow-releasing and give us a more sustained level of energy. Even better, choose wholemeal and wholewheat varieties, as these also contain more fibre and other nutrients that our bodies can use and take even longer to digest, helping to keep us feeling fuller for longer. I tend to trade up to wholemeal and wholewheat at least 7 times out of 10 – not only are you upping the nutritional value of what you’re eating, you’re also getting some really delicious flavours and textures and that drip-feed of energy is more useful.
While veg and fruit are often rich in carbs too, because they have such high nutrient values they go into our veg and fruit tally instead.
Why do carbs have a bad rep?
So when people are criticizing carbs, it’s generally our excessive sweet tooth that’s the problem. It’s a huge sweeping statement to say that carbs make us fat. Obviously, like anything, if we consume more than we need that excess is going to be stored as fat in the body, but if we eat the right type of carbs we should all be in a happy place. I’m sure you’re aware that many sugary foods also tend to be high in saturated fat, often don’t contain any other useful nutrients, and can have a very detrimental effect on our health if consumed too often.
Why do we need carbs?
If we don’t get enough carbohydrates and our bodies don’t get the energy they need, they have to get it from elsewhere and break down fat and protein instead. Protein is essential to the growth and repair of our bodies, so using it up for energy is inefficient and could eventually lead to muscle wastage. Eating complex carbohydrates is the best way to maintain our blood sugar levels, which helps us to concentrate and carry out our daily chores. So forget that fear of carbs and include them in your diet in the right way, every day.
Why I love carbs
Let’s just pause from the science for a minute to acknowledge what an integral part of the wonderful world of ingredients carbohydrates are. They are some of the most incredible flavour carriers on the planet – pasta paired with insane sauces, delicious breads and grains, rice in all its guises (stir-fries, risottos, paellas, with curries, stews, in soups), noodles, I could go on…
How much can we eat?
What I will say is, because these complex carbohydrates come in so many wonderful different shapes and forms it can be easy to double up and have too much without realising, so portion control and, frankly, restraint – AKA four roast potatoes, not nine – is the name of the game. Carbs should be about one-third of your balanced plate, and ultimately it’s what you pair those with that’ll get you on or off the right track. The average adult can have around 260g of carbohydrates a day, with up to 90g coming from total sugars.
Fibre is also classed as a carbohydrate, and is found mainly in plant-based foods. We should be aiming for about 30g of fibre each day – I’ve included it in the nutrition box on the recipe pages so you can start to get an idea of how much you get from different meals. We consume two different types:
- Insoluble fibre – largely found in wholemeal and wholewheat foods, we can’t digest this, so its important function is to help other food and waste pass through the gut, keeping our insides happy
- Soluble fibre – found in foods such as amazing oats, pulses, beans, veg and fruit. We can’t digest this but the good bugs in our colon can, which keeps them happy. Also, oats have a proven health claim to reduce blood cholesterol, so we love, love, love them
Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House ⓒ Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2015 Everyday Super Food) Photographer: Jamie Oliver
Carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol are all sources of calories in the diet. These macronutrients can all be part of a healthy diet. Balancing the calories that we take in with those that we burn every day can help us maintain, gain, or lose weight. Learn some tips for fitting carbs in your diet.
Read the "Fine Print"
Nutrition labels offer an easy way to spot added sugar, the source of simple carbs that you want to cut back on. Just look for words that end in "ose."
The chemical name for table sugar is sucrose. Other names you might see include fructose, dextrose, and maltose. The higher up they appear in the ingredients list, the more added sugar the food has.
Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans — they're all magic bullets for belly-fat loss. In one four-week Free Radical Research study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn't include them. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work them into your diet throughout the week. Salad is an easy way.
How many carbs are in my food?
You can find how many carbs foods have by reading food labels. If a product doesn’t have a food label, such as a whole piece of fruit or a vegetable, there are apps and other tools available to help you calculate. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Composition Database has nutrition information for thousands of foods in a searchable format. The good news is, the longer you practice carb counting, the more you'll remember the carb content of the foods you commonly eat.
There are two items on the nutrition facts label that you’ll want to pay attention to when carb counting:
- Serving size. The serving size refers to how much a person usually eats or drinks, and all the information on the label is about this specific amount of food. If you eat more, you will need to account for the additional nutrients. For example, eating two or three servings of something, means you will need to double or triple the amount of grams of carbs (and all other nutrients) on the label in your calculations.
- Grams of total carbohydrate. This number includes all carbs: sugar, starch and fiber. That’s right: You don’t have to worry about adding on grams of added sugars—they’re included in the number of total carbs! The added sugars and other bullets below the total carbs listing are included to provide more information about what’s in the food that you are eating. And while you don’t need to worry about adding added sugars when it comes to counting carbs, you should still aim to minimize the amount of added sugar in the foods you eat.
Curious About Vegan Keto? Check Out These Low-Carb Recipe Ideas and Tips
Updated December 31, 2018: The ketogenic (keto) diet is a low-carb, high-fat regimen aimed at changing the way that your body uses energy. We at PETA don’t advocate for any particular diet, but if you’re going to practice the keto diet, we recommend that you do it the compassionate way: by choosing vegan keto recipes.
Some vegan dairy and meat products are keto-friendly, like the pea protein Beyond Burger, Miyoko’s Kitchen cashew-based butter and cheeses, and Kite Hill almond-based yogurt and cream cheeses.
Here’s a list of vegan keto recipes and inspirational Instagram photos to show you how simple it is:
Delicious low-carb recipes, with less than 10g of carbohydrates per serving.
Light and fluffy, this bread substitute lives up to its name. Use it as a low-carb option for sandwiches
Paillard of chicken with lemon & herbs
Pounding meat until thin and flat is a great technique for barbecued chicken breast, as it ensures it won’t dry out. Try this version with lemon and herbs.
Cured pollock with dill cream & radish salad
Tom Kerridge's elegant Scandinavian-style seafood starter, similar to the salmon dish gravadlax, is sure to impress at any dinner party
Chicken, broccoli & beetroot salad with avocado pesto
This superfood supper is packed with ingredients to give your body a boost, such as red onion, nigella seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oil and lemon
Prawn & crab cocktail lettuce cups
Serve seafood on a sharing platter and let everyone build their own little prawn cocktail bites for a perfect dinner party starter or canapé
Crayfish cocktail with horseradish cream
Give the classic prawn cocktail a twist by pairing crayfish tails with tangy horseradish and creamy avocado in this delicious dinner party starter
Greek salad omelette
A quick and healthy supper
Choose a glossy, plump aubergine to make this warming vegetarian main course
You can add any other seafood to this quick aromatic green curry - prawns can go in with the coconut milk and clams with the mussels
Avocado, prawn & fennel cocktails
A modern, lighter version of the retro starter, prawn cocktail
Lamb shashliks with rosemary & garlic
Lamb leg meat is perfect for these Turkish kebabs, skewered with green peppers and red onions
This Latin American dish of fish cured in lime juice by James Martin is fresh, vibrant and healthy
Steamed fish & pak choi parcels
Just add steamed rice for a flavour-packed, low-calorie meal
Prawn, pomegranate & grapefruit salad
Bypass bread croutons and a heavy cream dressing and instead serve up a crispy, fruity salad with shellfish
Haddock in tomato basil sauce
A deliciously simple and low fat fish dinner
Thai chicken & mushroom broth
An ideal recipe for getting your Thai tastebuds into practice
Prawn & chorizo frittata
Never tried seafood with spicy chorizo? Give it a go in this simple supper for two
Packed with salmon, mussels and prawns, try this impressive yet authentic seafood curry
Try a chicken casserole with a difference and whip up this version with mushrooms, olives, tomato and parsley
Ricotta, tomato & spinach frittata
Healthy veggie bites that are packed with flavour - a midweek must
Gentlemen’s relish & scrambled eggs
Gentleman’s Relish is a classic salty anchovy paste - it makes a great partner for buttery scrambled eggs.
Cheese & onion pork chops
Enjoy British pork with melted Cheshire cheese and a kick of English mustard
Roast sirloin of beef
Gary Rhodes' delicious, succulent roast beef dish is perfect for a Boxing Day lunch or an alternative Christmas Day roast. And it only calls for four ingredients!
7. Nervous System Function
While sugar makes you jittery and anxious, complex carbs help provide a grounding effect to the body and reduce nervousness and anxiety. It’s the reason you often feel less stressed after having a yummy bowl of oatmeal, a simple banana, or a dish made with sweet potatoes. Carbs provide your body with exactly what they need all the way down to your nervous system. They help your body produce a number of enzymatic reactions and bring balance in just about every way possible.
Specific Foods That Can Affect Sleep
Researchers, including nutritionists and sleep experts, have conducted different types of studies to try to discover the best foods for sleep. While this research provides important clues, it’s not conclusive. In general, there’s a lack of direct evidence about specific foods that are good for sleep.
In addition, the range of varieties of cultivars of most foods means that their nutrient profile can be inconsistent. For example, some varieties of red grapes have high levels of melatonin while others have virtually none. Climate and growing conditions may further alter the nutrients in any particular food product.
That said, there are indications that certain foods can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. Sometimes this is based on a particular research study and in other cases on the underlying nutritional components of the food or drink.
Dietary choices affect more than just energy and sleepiness they can play a major role in things like weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar levels just to name a few. For that reason, it’s best to consult with a doctor or dietician before making significant changes to your daily diet. Doing so helps ensure that your food choices support not just your sleep but all of your other health priorities as well.
The kiwi or kiwifruit is a small, oval-shaped fruit popularly associated with New Zealand even though it is grown in numerous countries. There are both green and gold varieties, but green kiwis are produced in greater numbers.
Kiwifruit possess numerous vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins C and E as well as potassium and folate.
Some research has found that eating kiwi can improve sleep. In a study, people who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime found that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality.
It is not known for sure why kiwis may help with sleep, but researchers believe that it could relate to their antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or high concentration of serotonin.
Tart Cherries and Tart Cherry Juice
As the name indicates, tart cherries have a distinct flavor from sweet cherries. Sometimes called sour cherries, these include cultivars like Richmond, Montmorency, and English morello. They may be sold whole or as a tart cherry juice.
Several studies have found sleep benefits for people who drink tart cherry juice. In one study, people who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day were found to have more total sleep time and higher sleep efficiency.
These benefits may come from the fact that tart cherries have been found to have above-average concentrations of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep. Tart cherries may also have an antioxidant effect that is conducive to sleep.
Malted Milk and Nighttime Milk
Malted milk is made by combining milk and a specially formulated powder that contains primarily wheat flour, malted wheat, and malted barley along with sugar and an assortment of vitamins. It is popularly known as Horlick’s, the name of a popular brand of malted milk powder.
In the past, small studies found that malted milk before bed reduced sleep interruptions. The explanation for these benefits is uncertain but may have to do with the B and D vitamins in malted milk.
Milk itself contains melatonin, and some milk products are melatonin-enriched. When cows are milked at night, their milk has more melatonin, and this milk may be useful in providing a natural source of the sleep-producing hormone.
A research study found that fatty fish may be a good food for better sleep. The study over a period of months found that people who ate salmon three times per week had better overall sleep as well as improved daytime functioning.
Researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a healthy dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin. This study focused particularly on fish consumption during winter months when vitamin D levels tend to be lower.
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often considered to be a good food for sleep. Though the exact amounts can vary, nuts contain melatonin as well as essential minerals like magnesium and zinc that are essential to a range of bodily processes. In a clinical trial using supplements, it was found that a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc helped older adults with insomnia get better sleep.
Studies of carbohydrate intake and sleep have had mixed results overall, but some evidence connects rice consumption with improved sleep.
A study of adults in Japan found that those who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles. This study only identified an association and cannot demonstrate causality, but it supports prior research that showed that eating foods with a high glycemic index around four hours before bedtime helped with falling asleep.
At the same time, sugary beverages and sweets have been tied to worse sleep, so it appears that not all carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods are created equal. Additional research is necessary to fully identify the sleep-related effects of different carbohydrates.
The impact of carbohydrates on sleep may be influenced by what is consumed with them. For example, a combination of a moderate amount protein that has tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, and carbohydrates may make it easier for the tryptophan to reach the brain. Turkey is an example of a protein with high levels of tryptophan.
A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index
If you have diabetes, you know all too well that when you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar goes up. The total amount of carbs you consume at a meal or in a snack mostly determines what your blood sugar will do. But the food itself also plays a role. A serving of white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar — a quick, high spike in blood sugar. A serving of lentils has a slower, smaller effect.
Picking good sources of carbs can help you control your blood sugar and your weight. Eating healthier carbohydrates can help prevent a host of chronic conditions, especially diabetes, but it can also ward off heart disease and various cancers.
One way to choose foods is with the glycemic index (GI). This tool measures how much a food boosts blood sugar.
The glycemic index rates the effect of a specific amount of a food on blood sugar compared with the same amount of pure glucose. A food with a glycemic index of 28 boosts blood sugar only 28% as much as pure glucose. One with a GI of 95 acts like pure glucose.
Glycemic index chart
High glycemic foods result in a quick spike in insulin and blood sugar (also known as blood glucose). Low glycemic foods have a slower, smaller effect.
Choose low glycemic foods
Using the glycemic index is easy: choose foods in the low GI category instead of those in the high GI category (see below), and go easy on those in between.
The Bigger Picture — Low Carb Freezer Meals, Weight Loss Results, and Your Keto Lifestyle
Freezer-friendly keto recipes have been the secret ingredient behind sustainable weight loss results for hundreds (if not thousands) of keto and low-carb dieters. By using the recipes and tips above, you will be one step closer to transforming your health and body composition for the better as well.
As you make more low-carb freezer meals, it is also crucial to consider what you eat in the context of your overall keto lifestyle to get the results you want. For more information on how to create the optimal weight loss approach for you, we’ve included several tools and resources below: