Dr Clare Bailey: Why carbs don’t have to be off the menu

Lots of people decide to cut down on starchy carbs, such as white bread, pasta and rice, when they want to lose weight. The problem with these is they are swiftly broken down in your gut, releasing sugars, which make your blood sugar levels soar – that’s why cutting back on them can help prevent type 2 diabetes or even put it into remission. Lowering blood sugars can also reduce inflammation and the risk of developing other chronic diseases, including some cancers.

Starchy carbs can be difficult to give up, but fortunately some exciting new research suggests a way to cook them that could reduce the amount of sugar you absorb. So you are still able to eat these foods in moderation without getting the blood sugar spikes. 

Why carbs don't have to be off the menu
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First, it helps to understand the different forms that carbohydrates come in. Complex carbs such as wholegrains, oats, lentils, beans and seeds are broken down into sugars more slowly than refined white flour, pasta and rice. When you eat them they still release some sugars, but you don’t get the same huge blood sugar spikes.

They also contain fibre, which can’t be absorbed by your body; instead it passes through your small intestine, where it helps bulk up and soften your stools, keeping you regular. Once it gets down to your large intestine, it provides nourishment for your microbiome: the trillions of microbes that live down there. The ‘good’ microbes then turn the fibre you’ve eaten into chemicals that help reduce inflammation and keep you healthy. As well as lowering blood sugars, fibre also reduces appetite and it may even cut the risk of heart disease. 

Other good sources of fibre include apples and pears (with the skin on), celery, avocados and carrots. Eating more of these gut-friendly foods will reduce your risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.

Surprisingly, according to the study, it is possible to convert some starchy carbs into healthier ‘resistant starches’ – ones that act like fibre because they resist digestion – by cooking them using a technique called cook-cool-cook. 

First you cook your pasta, rice or potatoes as you would normally. Then you cool them, ideally for a minimum of 12 hours in the fridge. Then you reheat them thoroughly. By doing this you convert much of the simple starch found in these foods into ‘better’ resistant starch. 

For added fibre choose brown versions of bread, rice or pasta. You can store cooked rice in the freezer. I make large quantities, which take longer to cook but defrost well. Precooked rice is ideal in a stir-fry – and worth waiting overnight for. You can also keep bread in the freezer, then defrost or toast when needed. 

How to get strong… gently

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As you get older, keeping active feels like more effort. If you need persuading that it’s time to take up regular strength-building exercise, a recent study showed that frequency of falls fell by almost a quarter in over-60s who exercise. This has a huge impact, reducing the risk of pain, injury and increased mortality, seen with even minor falls. And don’t forget the consequent loss of confidence and independence that follows.

The study involved balance and functional exercises, in groups or professionally prescribed at home, and included dancing and walking. My 90-year-old mother-in-law will be pleased to learn that there is significant benefit in doing t’ai chi, which involves slow, deliberate and controlled movements. She has taken on a new lease of life since doing it regularly. Being low-impact, these graceful exercises are gentle on the joints and muscles, as they flow smoothly from one position to another. For more information visit taichiunion.com and for at-home exercises bit.ly/2l2Qb2E

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk