carbohydrates carbs fibre nutrition Mar 23, 2023

Whether you are working out at the gym, sitting at your desk (looking up a recipe) or cooking dinner in the kitchen, we all need energy to keep our bodies going. The food we eat to energise ourselves everyday contains a mixture of nutrients including proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates!

Yet over the past few years, carbohydrates have been given a bad wrap (pun intended). See, carbohydrates were once labelled as ‘bad’ for us with claims in the media like ‘carbs make you fat’ or rules attached to them such as ‘you can’t eat carbs after 3pm’. However, in reality, carbohydrates are actually a great source of fuel - supplying energy to all cells in the body and brain. In fact, glucose (produced from the breakdown of carbohydrates) is the brain’s preferred source of energy. It’s been estimated that the brain accounts for approximately 2% of total body weight yet it consumes around 20% of the glucose derived from food! How’s that for a fun fact! 

Interestingly, there are three main types of carbohydrates: simple carbs, complex carbs and fibre (hello gut bugs!) and they all have different roles to play.

The Types of Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates (or simple sugars), are carbohydrates in their most basic form. They easily absorbed by our bodies and can act as a quick and easy fuel source for cells. This type of carb can be found in naturally occurring foods like fruit, vegetables, milk and honey or added to processed foods like biscuits, sauces juices and lollies.

In contrast, complex carbohydrates are just as the name suggests - they are more complex in their structure and take longer for the body to breakdown, providing a more sustained release of energy. Complex carbs can be found in wholegrain breads, cereals, pastas and starchy vegetables like sweet potato.

Fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate, however it cannot be broken down by our digestive juices. It helps to keep us feeling fuller for longer, can relieve constipation, help to lower blood cholesterol levels, assist in blood sugar control and fuel beneficial gut bacteria too.


Super Seed Bars - See the recipe here.

 The Facts on Fibre

Dietary fibre is the structural part of plants (think cell wall) that cannot be broken down in the small intestine where the majority of our nutrients are absorbed. Meaning it reaches the large intestine relatively untouched. This is where our friendly gut bacteria step in.

Our gut microbiome - the collection of microscopic bacteria that live inside our large intestine, can produce the specialised enzymes needed to break down fibre from plant foods. They do this to release the energy locked within fibre to use as fuel. When gut bugs break down fibre, they produce helpful substances called short chain fatty acids that are great for our health and general wellbeing.   

Interestingly, research has shown that when out gut bugs are starved of fibre, they can eat away at the important muscosal layer that surrounds and protects the gut lining from pathogens. If this important muscosal barrier is eaten away by pathogens then this can lead to inflammation and a number of gut related health issues.  

Fantastic Fibre Foods

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes are all sources of fibre and are fantastic to include in your diet regularly. Try these easy ways to get more fibre (a.k.a helpful carbs) into your meals and snacks.

  • Swap white bread and wraps for wholegrain, seeded and rye breads. The darker and more grainy the better.

  •  Include more plant based meals using legumes as your protein source as legumes are also an incredible source of fibre. Why not make your next Mexican dish vegetarian - bean burritos anyone?

  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds over cereal, porridge or salads. This makes the dish look more gourmet too.

  • Get diversity in your grains – usually stick to brown rice? Try wild, black or red rice. Or even millet, amaranth, buckwheat or quinoa. Diversity is incredibly important for gut health and all of our wholegrain are a fantastic source of complex carbs and fibre. 

Lastly, be kind to yourself (and carbs). Not only are they a fantastic source of energy for your body and brain, they are essential to maintain thriving gut bugs and most importantly, who doesn’t enjoy eating carbs? We forget that nutrition is also about enjoying food and who doesn’t love a fresh piece of sourdough or delicious bowl of pasta? Of course, we know moderation is always key (eat sourdough yes but I wouldn’t recommend it for breakfast, lunch and dinner) but regardless of your goal in terms of nutrition, carbohydrates should always play a role in a healthy balanced diet.   

This article was written in collaboration with Registered Nutritionist Christine Stewart (graduate from Body Good Food mentor program).  See more from Christine at www.nutritioning.com.au or follow @gut.nutritionist on Instagram.

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I respectfully acknowledge the Bunurong Peoples’ of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Custodians and Owners of the land on which I live and work. I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present, and emerging, and recognize the continuing connection and rich contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to this country.