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M&S Health & Nutrition

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates

What Are Carbohydrates?

There are two forms of carbohydrates; sugars (simple) and starches (complex).

Carbohydrate is the body's main source of energy- the body breaks carbohydrate down to fuel your body - everything from breathing to thinking.

Sugars

Sugars are simple carbohydrates. They are easily absorbed by the body and provide an instant energy source. This results in a rapid rise in blood sugar levels which is followed by a drop as insulin begins to work. Peaks and drops in our blood sugar can unstable our body's energy levels.

Food Sources

Sugars in foods are found in two forms:

  1. Intrinsic sugars are naturally bound in the cell structure of foods such as in fruits and vegetables
  2. Extrinsic sugars are 'free' sugars found in table sugar and honey and foods such as confectionery and soft drinks. Eating these sugary foods frequently can increase the risk of dental caries and tooth decay.

Extrinsic sugars are also found in fruit juice (as juicing and blending fruit releases sugars from the cell structure) and in dairy products.

Starchy Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrate foods are harder for the body to break down which takes us longer to digest them. This means the blood sugar levels rise slower and steadier than from sugars. It also provides an efficient and sustained fuel for your body to function.

Most of the energy (calories) we need should come from eating starchy carbohydrates so try to make they make up at least one third of the foods you eat

Food Sources

Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and beans. They are also found in the staple foods in our diet including potatoes, yams, plantain and cereal based foods such bread,  rice, pasta, maize, cous cous, breakfast cereals, oats and quinoa.

There are two types of cereal starchy carbohydrate foods, these are know as refined (white) and unrefined (wholegrain) We should try to increase the amount of whole grain foods in our diet.

Whole grains

We should try to eat more unrefined, wholegrain cereals as they are processed so that the components of the grain remain intact. This means that wholegrain foods contain more fibre and other nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron and zinc.

Refined cereals have parts of the grain separated during the milling process, removing many nutrients found naturally in the whole of the grain- which makes the flour white. Refined cereal foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice and other foods made from white flours will have similar energy release effects as sugar.

Eat More Wholegrains

People who eat more wholegrain foods may have a reduced risk of developing type two diabetes, heart disease and stroke than people who eat more refined cereals. Easy ways to eat more wholegrain foods include:

  • Eat wholegrain breakfast cereals or porridge made with oats
  • Choose wholemeal bread sandwiches for lunch
  • Switch to brown or wild rice instead of white rice with curries and Chinese dishes
  • Include wholewheat pasta for dinner or pasta salads

Recommended Intakes

The Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) for total sugars, which includes intrinsic sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetables, is 90g per day. We should eat more fruits and vegetables and try to eat fewer sugary foods, such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, and soft drinks- these foods are high in energy and contain few nutrients- so eating less of these foods can help you control your weight and also help reduce the risk of developing dental caries.

How we can help...


  • Our front of pack labelling can help you to choose lower sugar options
  • We also label foods which are reduced sugar, no added sugar, low sugar or sugar free.
  • Eat Well and our children's food ranges have been developed within nutritional criteria to help reduce the amount of sugar.
  • Choose our wholemeal breads, pastas, pittas and tortilla wraps

For more information visit
The British Nutrition Foundation