White Carbs vs Brown Carbs

Posted on Feb 01, 2019

I’ve realised recently that people are getting it seriously wrong when it comes to carbs.

I mean … reaaaalllly wrong!

In fact, many folk seem to be avoiding them completely.

Fortunately, if you’re reading this article, it would suggest you’re not one of those who abstain from including them in your diet.

After all, they’re our body’s main source of energy.

But the confusion seems to lie around the differences between carbohydrates.

To be more precise …

White Carbs vs Brown Carbs

Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs

High GI Carbs vs Low GI Carbs

The thing is, white carbs, simple carbs and high GI carbs are all the same thing.

Just as brown carbs, complex carbs and low GI carbs are the same thing.

Different terminology but describing the same concept.

Let’s take a look -


So what’s the difference?

The difference is determined by the rate at which a carbohydrate is formed into glucose and enters the body through the bloodstream.

White carbs, simple carbs and high GI carbs will enter the system faster than brown carbs, complex carbs and low GI carbs.


What does GI mean?

GI is the universal abbreviation for glycaemic index.

GI, as mentioned previously, measure the rates at which certain carbohydrates enter the blood stream.  Or, in other words, measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose.

It was implemented initially for those who had Diabetes, so they had a resource guide to help stabilise their sugar levels, but athletes and bodybuilders use the tool now help them sustain energy levels and assist in recuperation.

GI is determined by feeding different carb sources to people in 50g portions of available carbs.

The blood sugar is then monitored and plotted over the following 3 hours, creating a curve on the graph.

This is then made into a percent of the averages of those tested to obtain the GI for that particular carb source.

The more glucose that reaches the bloodstream in the initial 3 hours, the higher the GI for that carb source.

Thus the low GI and high GI groupings.


Low GI Carbohydrates:

Here’s a list of some of the preferred sources of carbohydrates that are categorised under the low GI.

These are recommended for sustained energy levels as they have slower absorptions and lowered insulin responses:

  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Some fruits e.g. plums, peaches, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, grapefruits
  • Most vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Converted rice
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Bulgar
  • Dairy (skim milk, whole milk, yogurt)
  • Sweet potato
  • Oats
  • All-bran


High GI Carbohydrates

Want a list of high-GI carbs?

  • Sugars
  • Honey
  • Puffed cereals
  • Rice cakes
  • Potatoes
  • Candy
  • Breads, especially white bread
  • Instant products i.e. instant rice, oatmeal
  • Carrots, corn, peas
  • Flaked cereals
  • Crisps
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Melon and pineapple
  • White rice

Here’s what the “bro theory” says about high and low-GI carbs –

Low GI foods are assimilated at a slower rate, thus supplying the body with a steadier supply of energy.

These carbs alleviate hunger and control appetite.

They can also prevent mood swings.

High-GI carbs digest quickly, raise energy briefly, before making it slump back down again, and make it easier to store body fat.

According to this - dieting with low GI is certainly an optimal nutritional approach, especially if opting for these carb source pre-training.  This is because they prevent any premature lowering of blood glucose levels, which can lead to an early onset of fatigue.

Read on though, to discover why this is pretty much garbage …


Factors Affecting the GI of Food

Now while it seems ideal that we can look at a chart, determine the carb source we need by where it falls on the glycaemic index, and apply it to our nutritional requirements, there are some factors we need to take into consideration:


#1 Processing:

GI can rise due to processing of certain foods.  Our friend, the rice cake, as an example is a source that has been processed so much it almost has a GI as high as glucose!!


#2 Preparation:

GI can be affected in the way foods are cooked and prepared.  Overcooking of certain carbs breaks up the starches and raises the GI.  Baked potatoes, as an example, have a higher GI than potatoes that have been boiled.


#3 Food Combinations:

Combing carb sources with other foods can slow down the gastric emptying of the stomach and therefore the absorption of foods.  This lowers the GI of the carb source.

  • Protein:  add protein with a carb source and this will lower the GI as it will be required to be liquefied before it is released for absorption.
  • Fibre:  Fibre is very complex and takes a long time to break down.  Combine carbs and fibre and you will be certain to slow down digestion, thus absorption and therefore lower the GI.
  • Fats:  Fats have a slow gastric emptying and slows absorption of food.  Ice cream is counted as a low GI carb source, due to its high level of milk, fat and little protein
  • Carbs:  You can combine high GI carbs with low GI carbs, e.g. mashed potatoes with broccoli, and the total meal would be lower in GI than if you just ate the potatoes.

It’s this last point that really needs to be hammered home.

We rarely eat carbs on their own – I mean, who eats JUST a plate of pasta, or a bowl of plain white rice?

No one! (Or no one semi-sane at least.)

Therefore, all the other foods you eat along with your carbs affect the GI so much it simply isn’t worth worrying about.


To wrap up

Using the GI as a guide can be a useful resource for your nutrition.

However, in the grand scheme of things, you can see many factors actually affect the index.

Optimally, it kind of makes sense to get most of your carbs from brown. Low-GI sources, as these will be higher in vitamins and minerals and have more fibre.

But provided you’re hitting your macros, and eating mostly healthy foods, white carbs will do your fat loss no harm at all.

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