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The impact of slow release carbs on daily energy levels

Jo Waters
Article written by Jo Waters

Date published 16 July 2019

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What, and when, we eat has a profound effect on our energy levels. If you are tired of feeling exhausted all the time, eating unrefined or slow-release carbohydrates can improve your energy levels.

Know your carbs

Carbohydrates should make up just over one third of your daily diet.

They are grouped into either simple carbohydrates, which are sugars – processed white bread, cakes, cakes and biscuits – and are broken down quickly in the body, or complex carbohydrates, which are starches  – cereals, oats, pulses, wholegrains, most fruits and vegetables – and take more time to break down.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike and then dip. When blood sugar levels drop so do your energy levels.

Starchy, complex carbs release glucose into your blood gradually, providing you with a steady stream of energy and nutrients.

What is glycaemic index?

The speed at which your body metabolises carbohydrates can be measured according to the Glycaemic Index (GI) – a grading system that assesses whether a food raises your blood sugar levels quickly, moderately or slowly.

Although all carbs are broken down into glucose, the type and amount will affect your blood sugar levels as they are digested and absorbed at different rates.

The GI rating system runs from 0 to 100, and the slowly absorbed ones (low GI) have a rating of 55 or under.

Slow-release carbs

According to the British Dietetic Association (BDA), healthy low-GI choices include:

  • Brown rice
  • Porridge oats
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Rye bread
  • Quinoa
  • Pasta, but cooked al dente (still firm to the touch)
  • Pitta bread
  • Muesli and bran-based cereals
  • Basmati rice
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Fruits, including apples, bananas, cherries, dried apricots, oranges and strawberries

Slow-release carb breakfasts

If you skip breakfast, and the BDA estimates around a third of us do, you are likely to feel lethargic quickly.

Tucking into a balanced, low-GI breakfast, containing complex carbs with a little protein and fat, should set your body up with all the nutrients it needs for necessary energy.

The BDA recommends that your breakfast should provide 20 to 25 per cent of your daily nutrients, and suggests:

  • Porridge with berries and seeds
  • Scrambled, poached or boiled egg on wholegrain bread/toast
  • Natural yogurt with muesli, topped with fruit

If you are pushed for time, try preparing your breakfast the night before by soaking oats in low-fat milk, adding fresh or dried fruit and a pinch of cinnamon, and putting it in the fridge for morning.

Health benefits of slow-release carbs

Eating unrefined carbs will increase your energy and help keep your weight down. They have also been shown to prevent, or reverse, insulin resistance linked to type 2 diabetes (where blood sugar levels become too high).

This is because a rise in blood sugar triggers the pancreas to release the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin. Insulin resistance develops when blood glucose levels are consistently high over a prolonged period. There is mounting evidence that insulin resistance can be reversed by eating fewer sugary and processed foods and more unrefined complex carbohydrates.

Eat carbs with protein

To improve the energising effects of low-GI carbs further, eat them with protein (eggs with toast; wholemeal bread with peanut butter; oatcakes with hummus) and a little fat.

The body takes longer to process proteins than other foods so this effectively slows down the absorption of the carbohydrate.

The charity Diabetes UK says that the amount of carbs you eat can have a more pronounced effect on blood sugar levels than their GI value, and recommends keeping portion sizes small. Tucking into a huge lunch tends to result in that classic post-meal slump, as the more you eat, the harder your digestive system needs to work.

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Jo Waters

About Jo Waters

Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.