food and nutrition cairns gym

Food and Nutrition Facts – Carbohydrates and Sugars

Carbohydrates and sugars

Many people think of rice, potatoes and pasta as ‘carbs’ but that’s only a few examples of the huge range of foods that contain carbohydrates. All fruit and vegetables, all breads and grain (cereals) products, sugar and sugary foods contain carbohydrates.

Choosing the healthier carbohydrates is common sense. Fresh fruit and veggies, wholegrain breads, wholegrain cereals and pastas are all healthy foods and form part of a healthy eating pattern.

Not all carbohydrates are equal
Some grain (cereal) foods, which contain carbohydrates, have high amounts of added saturated fat, added sugar, added salt and not much fibre, vitamins or minerals. These include most cakes, muffins, pies, pastries and biscuits. These foods should be limited – choose only sometimes and in small amounts.

Why choose wholegrains?

Wholegrain cereals include all the parts of the natural grain. They contain more fibre and other nutrients than white or refined starchy foods. That means they retain all of their nutrients including dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and the healthier fats.
Choosing wholegrain options also helps to keep your digestive system healthy.

Carbohydrates are made of long chains of simple sugars. Thus sugar is a type of carbohydrate, needed by our body for energy. It may be called different names e.g. sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, raw sugar, cane sugar, malt extract and molasses.

Sugar in food and drinks can be naturally occurring, for example in fruit and dairy products, or added during processing, for example in confectionary, cakes, biscuits and sauces. Some healthy, core foods contain added sugars for flavour or food technology reasons, for example in flavoured yoghurt and some breakfast cereals.

What’s the evidence around sugar?
The Australian Government’s NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) recently reviewed all available evidence to update the Australian Dietary Guidelines and concluded that sugar as an individual nutrient was important in relation to dental caries, and sugary drinks can increase the risk of weight gain in adults and children.

Where do we get most of our sugar from?
The majority of ‘added’ sugar in the Australia diet comes from discretionary foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and sugary drinks. It is sensible to reduce the consumption of these discretionary foods which are a source of excess added sugar and energy. The Heart Foundation recommends that these foods are limited in a heart healthy diet.

According to the 2011/12 National Nutrition Survey, the top five sources of total sugar in the Australian diet are:

Fruit products and dishes
Cereal based products and dishes – including sweet biscuits, cakes, muffins*
Soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, electrolyte, fortified and energy drinks*
Sugar products and dishes*
Dairy products and dishes

* denotes added sugar, as opposed to naturally occurring sugar

What the Heart Foundation recommends

The Heart Foundation recommends that a heart healthy diet is one that is plant-based and includes a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains which are good quality sources of carbohydrates.

The Heart Foundation recommends limiting ‘extra’ or ‘sometimes’ foods that are high in sugar such as sugar sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, cordials, confectionery, sweet biscuits and cakes, etc.

Limiting excess energy (kilojoules) intake, in the form of added sugar and sugary drinks, can help to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, which is an important risk factor for heart disease.

What can I do?
Choose a variety of foods from the five food groups, and limit foods like cakes, confectionary, biscuits and sugary drinks. See our healthy eating tips for more information.

Consider the whole food when considering added sugar. Added sugar in milk or yoghurt may help to increase intake, particularly in children and teenagers – which is important as milk and yoghurt are nutritious foods essential to the diets of growing kids. However, products like sugary drinks which have a lot of added sugar and provide no nutritional benefit to the diet are not a good choice.

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