Healthy Eating / Feel a whole lot better about carbohydrates

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MANY people complain of feeling bloated, craving carbohydrates as soon as they start eating them or just feeling that their body doesn’t “process” carbs very well.

Clare Wolski
Clare Wolski.

Our digestive system is designed to break down food into individual chemical molecules and absorb those molecules into the bloodstream.

Our bodies have evolved to break down carbohydrates through the enzymes in saliva and the small intestine and then use them for energy through a process called glycolysis.

The main difference in our modern lifestyle is not how our body processes the carbohydrate, but how the carbohydrate gets to our body.

In the past, in order to consume carbs we would have to pick plants, grind grains and cook meals from scratch. It took time and effort (and often money). Now it’s just a matter of pulling into a drive-through.

So, rather than demonising carbohydrate as a nutrient or eliminating foods that are rich in carbohydrate, we can make some small changes to the way we eat them and feel a whole lot better:

Slow down

One of the biggest contributors to abdominal discomfort after eating carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, rice, bread and potatoes is just being overly full.

It takes time for the stomach to send the brain the signal that it’s full. And in that time we can manage to get through a lot more of the food in front of us. By the time the brain gets the message, we have overdone it. This is particularly true of more processed carbohydrates such as white bread (and pizza bases), pasta and crackers, as they don’t need much chewing. Whereas a similar amount of steak would take time to cut and gnaw through.

If you want to help the body manage the volume of carbohydrates, slow down when eating and be conscious of how much is being consumed. Put your knife and fork (or the food) all the way down between bites and then wait until that mouthful is finished before picking them back up again.

Add vegetables

Fibre is the indigestible part of plants and vegetables. Fibre helps to slow the rate of carbohydrate breakdown and absorption, which lowers the Glycaemic Index (GI) of your whole meal. 

  • Mix pasta with spiralised veg or veggie peels to bulk out the meal.
  • Add extra veg to a sandwich.
  • Reducing processed sugar is a helpful way improve our overall diet quality and long-term health.
    Put tomato or cucumber slices on crackers.
  • Mash up potato with parsnip, pumpkin, carrot or cauliflower.
  • Add finely diced cauliflower to risotto.

Reduce processed sugar

I’m not a big fan of cutting things out, simply because any black-and-white statement in nutrition is usually less accurate. However, reducing processed sugar is a helpful way improve our overall diet quality and long-term health.

  • Reduce the sugar in baking recipes by a third.
  • Pick two or three sweet things to enjoy each week rather than every day.
  • Skip the confectionary section when grocery shopping.


Everyone’s carbohydrate and energy needs are different and are influenced by how much we move. The more we exercise the more energy is needed, which means the more carbohydrate you can afford to eat within an energy budget.

What’s more, when we exercise our muscles become better able to use carbohydrate as fuel due to an increase in insulin sensitivity. The more muscle we have, the more carbohydrate we are likely to use as fuel.

Build a little bit more movement into the day:

  • Get up and do a lap of the office every hour.
  • Do a lap of the block before walking through the front door in the afternoon.
  • Do squats or lunges while cooking dinner.

Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663.

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  1. Carbohydrates cause cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Humans get into ketosis faster than any other animal on the planet and we evolved giant brains because of it. You need your brain and your brain doesn’t like carbs.

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