Bare facts on naked carbs and how to dress them for success

Just when you thought carbs may no longer be the enemy, along comes the concept of ‘naked carbs’. So what are they and are they really bad for you?

When it comes to mealtimes, there’s plenty to think about.

But are naked carbs one of those things, or are they perfectly OK in moderation?

What is a naked carb?

“Naked carbs are simple carbohydrates that are consumed without any accompanying protein or fat to slow down digestion,” Dr Liam Murphy, of Melbourne Functional Medicine, says.

Examples include white bread, fat-free milk, pasta, lollies, sweetened drinks or fruit, he says.

“Non-diet dietitian” Erin Murnane, of Balance and Bite, also points to rice cakes, popcorn, cereal, chips, fruit juice or bagels.

Are naked carbs bad for you?

In moderation, naked carbs aren’t bad for you, Erin says.

While naked carbs raise our blood glucose levels faster than if we paired them with fats, protein or fibre, that’s no reason to avoid them entirely, she says.

“A healthy diet for blood sugar management is not about a single food or single meal – it’s about the nutritional content of many meals and foods over time.”

Erin says it’s only when we eat naked carbs too often that blood glucose levels may rise too regularly – and people with diabetes need to be particularly mindful.

Do naked carbs cause weight gain?

If you eat loads of naked carbs, your waistline may feel it, Dr Murphy says.

Why? Because simple carbs are quickly absorbed by our bodies, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels, he says.

That triggers the release of insulin, which can promote fat storage and weight gain.

Consider ‘dressing’ your carbs

Dr Murphy says dressed carbs – those combined with protein and/or healthy fats – are usually a more nutritious alternative.

“Dressed carbs can help reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, boost metabolism, and maintain stable blood sugar level.”

They can also help you age well, he says, because they support muscle mass, provide essential nutrients, help manage weight, support brain health, and reduce inflammation associated with age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.

So what should I eat?

If you’re keen to eat more dressed carbs, try tuna and crackers, apple and nut butter, almonds and dark chocolate, fruit and cheese, or nut butter sandwiches, Dr Murphy says.

He recommends reaching for full-fat milk, rather than the fat-free version.

Eat pasta with other wholefoods, including some protein and fat.

Dr Murphy says for most active people, eating fruit is not an issue.

But if you have a sedentary lifestyle, add some peanut butter to that apple.

Erin says for most people, occasionally enjoying a few lollies, fruit juice or a slice of white bread with butter and Vegemite is fine, as we have hormones to help keep our blood glucose levels stable.

However, if you do want to dress your carbs, she suggests the following ideas:

  • Rather than just chips or popcorn, add veggie sticks, a dip, cheese or a boiled egg to a snack plate
  • Add chopped nuts and berries to cereal and milk
  • For your next fruit smoothie, add a teaspoon of peanut butter, or some LSA powder
  • Keen on rice cakes? Add cream cheese and ham, or smoked salmon.

More on how to use carbs in a balanced diet:

Written by Larissa Ham.