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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are refined starches and why are they not good for your health?

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  • The Glycemic Index Foundation (GIF) is a not-for-profit company supported by The University of Sydney and JDRF (Australia). GIF is committed to providing Australians with … View Profile

    Starches (formerly known as complex carbohydrates) occur naturally in a large range of foods including nutrient-rich foods like root vegetables, legumes, cracked wheat, brown rice, pearl barley, quinoa and oats. Starch is also found in refined products such as cornflour, white bread, many breakfast cereals, potato crisps, French fries, rice crackers/cakes, biscuits, cakes, and pastries.

    Refined starches are invisible, they are not listed in the Nutrition Information/Nutrition Facts Panel on foods, and the names for added refined starches are often unpronounceable like acetylated distarch phosphate, or food additive code number 1414… if you prefer.

    So why are they not good for our health? Refined starches contain essentially the same amount of Calories (kJs), total carbohydrate and fibre as refined sugars, and unless fortified, are just as devoid of vitamins and minerals. They also have a high GI. In a nutshell, refined starches are as detrimental to our health as refined sugars.

    When choosing foods for a healthy diet, you should avoid foods containing highly refined starches (e.g. white bread) as well as highly refined sugars (e.g. table sugar).

  • Ashleigh is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD, AN) and registered with the Dietitian's Association of Australia with experience in both clinical and private practice. Ashleigh's … View Profile

    Your carbohydrates should mainly be made up of unrefined complex starchy and fibrous carbohydrates. Limit you simple carbohydrates as much as you can (sugar, sweets, etc.) and eliminate refined carbs completely from your diet. Unrefined complex carbohydrates should makeup most of your diet. Carbohydrates can be divided into 3 groups:

    Simple Carbohydrates e.g. sugar, honey, fruit, fruit juice

    Simple carbohydrates have a ‘simple’ molecular structure and are made up of 1-2 sugar molecules. The simplest form of carbohydrate is glucose. Simple sugars that are found in foods include sucrose (table sugar), fructose (found in fruit), and lactose (found in milk). Not all simple carbs are bad. Natural simple carbs in fruit and milk are perfectly healthy. Low-fat or non-fat dairy such as yoghurt, milk and cottage cheese are healthy food choices and rich sources of calcium. Although fruits and (fresh) fruit juices are healthy and packed with minerals and vitamins, it is probably best to eat it them in moderation and consume 2 x pieces of fruit per day. So, if not all simple carbohydrates are ‘bad’, which ones are? Sugar (sucrose)! If you wanna lose weight, stay away from sugar.

    Complex Carbohydrates eg. rice, wholemeal,  pasta, wholegrains

    Complex carbohydrates are also made up of sugars, but the sugar molecules are strung together to form longer, more complex chains. Complex starchy carbohydrates include whole grains, peas and beans, which are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. These complex carbohydrates, when kept in their natural form, have a low GI meaning for long-lasting energy and satiety. The problem with complex starch carbs is that they can be refined.

    Refined carbohydrates are foods where machinery has been used to remove the high fibre parts from the grain. When a complex carb is refined it loses it complex structure and thus all the properties that made it a healthy choice. Instead it takes on the properties of a simple carbohydrate and is processed by the body in the same way. White rice, white flour, white bread, sugary cereals, and pasta, noodles and pretty much anything made from white flour are all examples of refined carbohydrates. You should stay away from refined carbs, as much as you should stay away from sugar. Refined carbohydrates also have a high glycemic index causing our blood sugar to rise and drop quickly after ingestion.

    Complex fibrous carbohydrates eg. most vegetables

    Fibrous carbs are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other nutrients and tend to be green vegetables. These are full of fibre, which is the indigestible portion of plant material. This means that much of the food passes straight through the gut and is not absorbed, thus they are great ‘colon cleansers’ and are essential for keeping the digestive process running clean and healthily!

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