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Carbohydrates (or carbs) are our body's main source of fuel. We need them to keep our energy levels up and keep our brain alert. It's important to have some carbohydrates with each meal.

Good sources of healthy carbohydrates

complex carbsSeveral foods are good sources of healthy carbohydrates. They include:

Some carbohydrates are better for us than others. Highly processed carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, sugary cereals, cakes and biscuits provide fuel for our brains but do little to help us stay healthy. They also tend to be high in energy (kilojoules or calories) and do not keep us feeling full for long.

Quality carbohydrates, like the ones in the list above, provide not only energy but also many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to be healthy.


We need carbohydrate foods that also contain fibre to keep our gut (intestines or bowel) healthy. Fibre is food that we do not break down and absorb, but that provides food for the good bacteria that live in our gut. It's essential for keeping our gut healthy. It's also really important for helping us feel full and preventing constipation.

Eating a lot of high-fibre foods can reduce our chances of getting heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. It can also help us to stay a healthy weight. High-fibre foods feed the good bacteria in our gut (gut microbiota), which helps to keep us and our gut healthy.

How much carbohydrate to have

You should have at least seven servings of vegetables and fruit every day. A serving is about a handful, so the amount varies depending on the person. The Heart Foundation has a handy factsheet that shows you how to use hand size to judge portion size.

Try to include legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans in a couple of meals every week. The Heart Foundation's free Full O'Beans cookbook has more information about legumes and how to cook them, as well as recipes for using them.

Include a portion of carbohydrates such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta or starchy vegetables at every meal. Choose wholemeal or wholegrain varieties. A portion is about the size of your closed fist and like a portion of vegetables varies with every person. Eating too much of any food, even of good carbohydrates will make you put on weight, so watch your portion size.

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On the next page: Fats

Written by nutrition student, Ara Institute of Canterbury. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2022.


Page reference: 425841

Review key: HIHEI-34305