Not all carbs are created equal

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Not all carbs are created equal

Not all carbs are created equal

By Duncan Hunter


Understanding carbohydrates is more than just limiting the amount of refined pasta, sugar or bread in your diet, or choosing grain bread over white.

The main three things that affect the quality of a bread are quantity and carbohydrates, fibre and nutrients, and glycemic index.




How many carbohydrates a person consumes each day is ultimately dependent on how much exercise they do, and if they are trying to lose  weight (fat). The quantity of carbohydrates a person consumes each day has a significant impact on fat levels, weight and, ultimately, overall health. For those exercising less than 90 minutes a day, or those who are trying to lose body fat, zero to two slices of bread per day is a simple guideline.  However, the type of bread also has a significant impact on this, with some bread having twice the carbohydrates (grams per serve) of others.

While nutritional guidelines over the past decade have focused on calorie and kilojoule intake, there is significant research highlighting that the types and quantity of carbohydrates we consume is just as - or more - important than counting calories. However, there is much confusion about carbohydrates, with low awareness around the fact that ‘carbs’ are found in many everyday foods, not just bread, pasta and rice. For many, following  a scientifically formulated program provides the tools to understand and learn about carbohydrates and quantities.


The fibre content of bread is a simple indicator of its quality; as a guideline you want to select something with more than 2.5g fibre per slice.



The GI of a food affects how fast the carbohydrates within it will raise your blood sugar levels. Ultimately, you want to choose breads with a low GI - which usually includes grain breads. The GI is not marked on all food labels, so you need to either go for brands that have it on the label or stick to the principles of a low-GI bread as outlined below. Try to avoid breads that are medium to high-GI. These usually include Turkish breads, standard white bread and brown bread. Lower-GI foods can help in the management of diabetes, weight loss and weight management, as well as reducing the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, diabetes complications, and other chronic lifestyle diseases.

This graph highlights the sustained release of sugar into your blood after eating low-GI versus high-GI foods. Having peaks and dips in your blood glucose level can increase your risk of diabetes and leave you feeling hungry and lethargic.



Types of bread


White and brown breads are just like a bag of sugar to the body.” Australian white bread is made from wheat with the germ and bran removed, making it naturally white without bleach. However, this processing reduces the fibre by up to 50%, increasing the GI and reducing the B-group vitamins, phosphorous, vitamin E, zinc, iron and magnesium.


Wholemeal breads are made from whole grains and have been milled to a fine texture. This does not make them a ‘true’ wholegrain as the kibbled bits in whole grain are very important to slow the absorption and lower the GI. Just because it is brown does not mean it is healthy.


This is the best choice, but even still you need to choose wisely as not all multigrain breads are low-GI. Some also have very large slices, leading to excess carbohydrates and calories. Wholegrain bread has more fibre and nutrients, and a lower GI because it still has the whole grain intact.


Flat bread can be a great choice as most wraps will only be equivalent to 1.5 slices of bread, meaning fewer calories and carbohydrates than a normal sandwich. However, you still want to aim for wholegrain so you get more fibre and a lower-GI option. Watch out for pseudo healthy, large, white flat breads which are really just as bad as bread. For example the new six-inch flat bread from Subway contains 267 calories and 44.5 grams of carbohydrates. A normal white bread sub, meanwhile, contains 192 calories and 34g of carbohydrates.


Sourdough bread is not as high in fibre and nutrients as whole grain breads. The benefit of sourdoughmade traditionally is that it will have a low to medium GI; although, not all modern sourdough is made with the GI-lowering, slow-fermentation process. If your sourdough melts in your mouth and is not chewy, it is likely to have a high GI.


Lebanese bread is just a very large type of flatbread with up to 248 calories and 48.5g carbs per slice compared to 129 calories and 19.7grams of carbohydrates in Wattle Valley Soft Wholegrain Wraps.



Turkish bread is the worst of the lot being large in volume, high-GI and low-fibre. Best to keep this to a ‘sometimes’ food as they usually end up making oversized, unhealthy café-style sandwiches.



Author Bio

Duncan Hunter is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and an independent advisor to Atkins Nutritionals. To learn more about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbohydrates and how to control your blood sugar levels, visit www.atkins.com



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