Day 5 – Carbohydrates, are you eating the right kind?

Day 5 of our 30-day nutrition challenge is to help you choose the right type, and quantity of carbohydrates for maximum energy and immunity. Carbohydrates:

  • Provide a quick source of energy (simple carbohydrates)
  • Provide a more sustainable source of energy (complex carbohydrates)
  • Help feed immunity
  • Promote good bowel health
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Lower risk of type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer

Sugar, starch and fibre are the three types of carbohydrates.


It’s the sugar – or “free sugars” – which are sugars added to food/drinks which we eat too much of. We should have less than 30g (7 sugar cubes) of free sugars per day. Tips to reduce free sugars:

  • Switch fizzy drinks with fruit flavoured water, sparkling water
  • Dilute fruit juice with water/sparkling water
  • Add nut butter rather than jam/marmalade to toast
  • Choose tinned fruit in juice rather than in syrup
  • Add fruit rather than sugar to baking


If you’d like to have more sustainable energy throughout the day starchy carbohydrates are the type of food to add to your plate. They come from plants e.g. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and are also a good source of fibre, B vitamins, calcium and iron. The fibre helps to remove waste products helping reduce constipation and also help you to feel fuller for longer. Tips to include more starchy carbohydrates:

  • Choose wholegrains (granary/seeded bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice)
  • Oat based cereals (check sugar not too high)
  • Jacket potato including the skin


Found in fruit, vegetables, wholewheat pasta, wholegrain bread, beans and lentils. Important not just for preventing constipation, reducing the risk of bowel cancer, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes but also for immunity (read more in Nutrition Challenge Day 2). It’s suggested adults eat on average 18g fibre per day – the suggested amount is 30g per day. To boost fibre try:

  • Higher fibre cereal or add some flaxseed/linseed to cereal
  • Switch from white to granary or seeded bread, and white pasta/rice to wholemeal/brown
  • Reduce the red meat and top up with lentils e.g. bolognaise with 50/50 red meat/lentils
  • Add peas, lentils, barley to soups
  • Raw veg (carrots, peppers, celery) as a snack with hummus

Fitting in fibre

Fibre content examples:

  • 1 x slice white bread (0.9g)
  • 1 x slice wholemeal bread (2.5g)
  • Jacket potato with skin (4.7g)
  • 200g tin baked beans (9.8g)
  • 1 x banana (1.4g)
  • 1 x orange (1.9g)

Boost your energy

Carbohydrates provide our quickest and easiest source of energy. Quicker release glucose sources (tropical fruit, white bread/pasta/rice) are useful for a quick burst of energy before exercise but not helpful if you’re not planning exercise anytime soon – simple carbohydrates increase blood glucose levels quickly then levels crash making you want more of the quick fix energy. If more glucose is eaten than used it’s stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver, but if there’s more glycogen than required the glucose if converted to fat…..

It’s not suggested that carbohydrates should be removed from diets. Instead, check packaging suggestions for how much rice/bread/pasta and adjust your portion accordingly – portion size is often greater than suggested.

There is some new evidence that people with type-2 diabetes may benefit from a low-carb diet but only do this following a conversation with your healthcare professional. Low-carb diets can help to reduce weight and improve diabetes control but there be complications and medication may need to be adjusted to prevent hypoglycaemia.

Further information about carbohydrates can be found in our Bitesize Nutrition podcast Bitesize basics and Understanding food labels webinarsIf you’re new to podcasts you can listen free without registration on your phone or PC by clicking on the podcast link in this paragraph, or listen to Bitesize Nutrition on iTunes & Spotify.

Don’t forget to let us know what you think #nutritionchallenge30

A reminder:

  • The information in this article is for educational purposes and should not replace medical advice.
  • The information is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
  • If you have a diagnosed medical condition, you should consult a doctor before making any major changes to your diet, and;
  • Some supplements may interact with medications and you should check with your GP before commencing any supplement programme.
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