Not all carbohydrates are the same

Posted on December 3, 2016 by

Carbohydrates can be classified in a number of different ways to describe a similar thing.

You may have seen these descriptions:

  • Complex and simple sugars
  • Processed/refined or wholegrain carbohydrates
  • Low and high Glycemic Index (GI)

All of these terms have some consideration for the rate carbohydrates are digested and absorbed into the blood stream. The GI system provides a score to represent this rate.


There are a number of variables that can contribute to determining this GI figure including ripeness, how it is cooked and prepared or what it is consumed with so is more accurate to use broader groups of low, moderate and high GI carbohydrates helps to classify the impact that type of carbohydrate will be having on the body.


Low Glycemic Index foods

Carbohydrate foods with a low Glycemic Index take time to break down in the gut, gradually releasing glucose into the blood. A low GI carbohydrate at meals may assist weight management by providing a slow and consistent fuel release into the system to help you to feel fuller for longer and to manage corresponding insulin levels.


Low GI carbs are generally less processed and are wholegrain or high in fibre which means there will be a higher nutrient level, day to day carbohydrate consumption should be low GI choices.


High Glycemic index foods

Carbohydrates with a high Glycemic Index are generally more processed and are rapidly digested and absorbed quickly into the blood stream causing a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. This can be important when energy from carbohydrates is needed quickly and there is little time to wait for digestion of a low GI carbohydrate. High GI foods can be beneficial directly before, during or after exercise to rapidly replace carbohydrate used so blood sugar levels and energy levels remain optimal for training.


The table below outlines some carbohydrate foods and how they are ranked according to their GI figure.


The glycemic index is just one way to consider the best type of carbohydrate to choose to fuel your day and your training. The level of protein or fat within a meal also act to slow down the digestion and release of carbohydrates, which again shows the importance of a balanced meal. Over all, carbohydrates should be wholegrain or higher fibre choices at meal times. Around training a low fibre or high GI carbohydrate may be suitable so energy is available as the body is using it and there is less bulk in the gut.

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