Agave Syrup
/uh-gah-vee sir-uhp/

Carbs

Agave syrup (or sometimes called agave nectar) comes from the agave plant native to Mexico and also used to make tequila. It’s hailed as ‘all natural’ which is really misleading – so is white table sugar after all. Although the sweet nectar direct from the plant has been used for centuries, including as far back as the Aztecs, the stuff you buy in a bottle has undergone considerable processing. The resultant syrup is no healthier than regular sugar. It does have a low GI, but that is down to the high percentage of fructose present. This may be harmful in high quantities and lead to increased liver fat and abdominal (visceral) fat. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Agave is much more expensive than regular sugar so unless you particularly like the slightly caramel taste, I can't see why it is worth it. Be careful not to psychologically tell yourself that products made with such products are healthier, and unwittingly you eat more of them! A little sugar is fine in your diet, but many people have way too much.

Nutritional Information

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Amaranth
/am-uh-ranth/

Carbs

Amaranth is a pseudograin similar to quinoa. While it is less common today and may be new to you, it is an ancient grain and was a staple food of the Aztecs. Compared to other grains amaranth stands out for its protein content - a cup of cooked amaranth has 9g compared to 5g in the same amount of brown rice. In addition to having good protein levels, amaranth has a good balance of amino acids - the building blocks of proteins. Most grains are low or lacking in lysine, but amaranth provides this essential amino acid. This makes it a particularly good choice for vegetarians and vegans. 

Amaranth is an excellent source of the mineral manganese with a cup of the cooked grain providing about 40% of your daily requirement. While we only need tiny amounts of manganese, it plays an essential role in the body as part of several enzymes. One of these is an antioxiant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD helps to prevent free radical damage to cells and DNA.

It's also one of the grains with the most calcium, with 100g of uncooked amaranth providing 160mg - that's about 16% of the average adults daily requirement.

If you don't eat meat, including amaranth in your diet is a good way to boost your iron intake. A cup provides 5.2mg of iron. Bear in mind that plant iron - called non-haem iron - is very poorly absorbed but by including a good source of vitamin C in the same meal you can boost the absorption of the iron. Try adding amaranth to your salad greens and sliced capsicum, both rich sources of vitamin C.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The Mexicans pop their amaranth grains to make a kind of popcorn that they then mix with honey to create a sweet treat called alegría, which means 'happiness' in Spanish. 

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Barley
/bahr-lee/

Carbs

Barley was one of the first grains to be cultivated and has been used a staple food by many since biblical times. Today it is more often fermented and used to make beer. It is making something of a comeback as the nutritional benefits of this grain are recognised. 

Barley is especially rich in fibre with 16g/100g of pearl barley - that's four times the fibre of brown rice! Like oats, there is a high percentage of soluble fibre, including beta-glucans, shown to be effective in reducing blood LDL-cholesterol. Fibre is essential for good gut health as it both keeps you regular, reducing the risk of diverticulitis, haemorrhoids and other gut problems, and encourages a healthy population of microbes in your colon. Your gut microbiome is really like another organ and has wide and varied effects on our health from boosting immune function to influencing brain function. 

Barley is rich in several micronutrients including B group vitamins, especially thiamin and niacin, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium. Although we classify barley as a carb, it is around 10% protein. This makes it a particularly valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets, but also adds considerable protein to any meal. 

Barley is most commonly available as pearled barley, where the bran and outer husk of the grain are removed. It is more palatable in this form, and although some of the fibre and nutrients are lost in the process, the figures given above are for barley in this form. You can search for pot barley (sometimes called Scotch barley) which contains more of the bran layer and therefore is even more nutritious. The good news is that both barley types have a low GI and therefore provide slow-release carbs. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The CSIRO in Australia developed a super barley variety called BarleyMax. Without using any genetic modification, they produced a barley that was especially high in resistant starch. This is a type of fibre that is known to be key in promoting a healthy gut bacterial population and in turn, good gut health. In Australia you can buy barleymax as ready to eat cereals, barley wraps (both sold under the brand Goodness Superfoods), and as a grain mix for use in place of regular rice (sold as Rice Plus).

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Black Beans
/blak beenz/

Carbs

Black beans, sometimes called turtle beans due to their glossy black coat, belong to the legume family. They are one of my favourite beans as they are winners nutritionally while also delivering on taste and meaty texture, keeping their shape during cooking. It used to be hard to find them ready cooked and canned, but recently they have become much more available and you should now spot them in your local supermarket. You can of course cook them from dried, but do be sure to soak overnight before cooking to reduce the anti-nutrients and reduce the levels of compounds such as raffinose that can cause flatulence.
 
A cup of black beans (which counts as a protein block or as a carbohydrate block on Get Lean) delivers 31g of available carbohydrate, 16g of plant protein, very little fat and an impressive 16g of fibre. Importantly the fibre includes insoluble fibre found in the skin, and both soluble fibre and resistant starch in the bean itself. This makes it a fabulous food for fuelling good gut bacteria, keeping you regular and promoting general gut health.
 
Black beans are one of the best plant sources of iron, delivering over 4mg. You’ll also get a good dose of folate – important for protecting DNA from damage as we age – magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and the B group vitamins thiamine and riboflavin.
 
We usually think of fruits and vegetables being our primary sources of phytochemicals such as antioxidants, but black beans score impressively well here too. The gorgeous dark purplish black colour comes from a group of anthocyanins – a sub-group of flavonoids being studied for their ability to protect cells throughout the body from free radical damage.

’s ‘Did You Know?’
Black beans are traditionally used in Latin American dishes such as burritos and in Spanish, Portuguese and Punjabi cuisine. They are very versatile in cooking from soups to salads to casseroles.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Proteins

 
 
Borlotti Beans
/bor-lotti beenz/

Carbs

Borlotti beans are a type of kidney bean that is widely used in Italian cuisine. They have a lovely creamy texture and slightly sweet flavour. They are wonderful added to pasta dishes such as ragu or to any casseroles.

Like other beans borlotti provide a good balance of plant protein (100g provides about 6g of protein) and carbohydrates that are slowly absorbed (low GI). They are fablulously fibre rich with 5g per 100g of cooked beans, and the fibre includes soluble fibre and resistant starch, both excellent fuel for the good bacteria in your gut.

Borlotti beans will also deliver you a good dose of B group vitamins, including folate, magnesium, iron and zinc.  
’s ‘Did You Know?’
You can often find borlotti beans fresh, still in their brightly coloured pods, in good grocers. Fresh borlotti beans should be used within a week. You do not need to soak fresh beans - simply remove from teh pod and simmer in stock or water for about 40 minutes or until tender. Delicious served with extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and freshly chopped herbs.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Brown Rice
/broun rahys/

Carbs

Brown Rice is nutritionally superior to white rice as only the outer husk of the grain is removed. This retains some fibre and many of the nutrients that are lost in making white rice. It has a nuttier taste that I for one prefer - it may take a little getting used to but I'm willing you'll be a convert if you stick with it! It does take longer to cook than white rice, but you can also purchase ready cooked brown rice in microwavable pouches. These are prefectly acceptable and make for quick easy meals. 

Unfortunately the GI is not always low for brown rice - it varies depending on the type of brown rice. Interestingly another plus for the pouches is that the Uncle Ben's brand produced by Effem Foods in the US have been tested by the Sydney University GI testing unit and found to have a low GI of 48 (low is a score of 55 or less).  In Australia look for SunRice Low GI Brown Rice - this has been tested by the same unit and found to have a GI of 54.

Despite the variations in GI, I still like brown rice as an option. Half a cup of cooked brown rice provides 23% of your phosphorus for the day, 22% of your niacin, 20% of your magnesium, 16% of your thiamin, 14% of your zinc and 12% of your vitamin E. You'll also get smaller but significant amounts of iodine and iron. 

Brown rice is not as rich in fibre as other wholegrains - half a cup of cooked brown rice provides 1.5g of fibre - but a major plus is that it tends to a very well tolerated food, even with the most sensitive individuals. It is also gluten free making it a valuable food for coeliacs or anyone following a low or gluten free diet.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The popularity of low carb diets in the West has pushed rice out of favour, but it's worth remembering that rice has been cultivated in China since approximately 2500BC. Today it supplies upwards of a third of the daily kilojoules to over 3.3 billion people living in Asia. 

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Buckwheat
/buhk-hweet/

Carbs

Buckwheat has been a staple food for hundreds of years in Asia and Eastern Europe. It's not related to wheat at all, and is in fact related to rhubarb and sorrel. Where wheat is a grass, buckwheat is actually a seed, although we eat it as a grain. Nutritionally the profile is more similar to common grains. One distinct difference however is that while most grains are low on, or missing one of the essential amino acids, buckwheat contains all 8. This makes it a particularly valuable choice for vegetarians and vegans.

Buckwheat stacks up pretty impressively from a nutritional perspective. A 1/4 cup of buckwheat groats provide 32% of your recommended intake for magnesium, 23% of your niacin, 14% of your phosphorus and 14% of your zinc (girls) or 8% (guys), 11% of your riboflavin and 9% your thiamin. 

Buckwheat is used in Japan to make soba noodles. Buckwheat is gluten free, but if you are strictly gluten free do double check the soba noodles you buy are 100% buckwheat. The Japanese brands are usually true to this, but sometimes a combination of buckwheat and wheat flours are used.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Buckwheat is the main source of a plant chemical called rutin. Rutin seems to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in animal and lab studies. Rutin binds free iron, preventing it from causing oxidative damage to cells around the body, and it helps to prevent blood clots that can potentially lead to a heart attack. Future research is needed to confirm these effects in humans, but the potential looks promising.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Cannellini beans
/kah-nel-lee-nee beenz/

Carbs

There are thousands of species of beans and peas and botanically they are known as Leguminosae - or as we simply call them, legumes. Cannellini beans are kind of like a white kidney bean and indeed are often referred to as such. They are popular in Italian cooking where they are called fasolia beans.

You can buy them dry or ready cooked in canned form. I have to admit I usually do the latter for convenience. If you have them ready to use in your pantry you are much more likely to use them! Nutriitonally nothing is wrong with using canned - just be sure to rinse them well in a sieve under the tap to wash away much of the salt that is in the storing liquid. To me this is a good example of modern food preservation that makes healthy eating easier and hurray for that! 

Nutritionally cannellini beans are pretty fabulous. They are high in protein and fibre, they have a very low GI of 31, and are low in fat. A half cup of cooked beans provides 6g of protein, 11g of carbohydrate, 6g of fibre and 0.5g of fat, all for only 325kJ (78 calories). They are an excellent source of folate with that same half cup providing 74μg (19% of an adult's RDI) and a good source of niacin (11% RDI for women, 10% for men) and iron (8% RDI for women, 19% for men). You'll also get a significant dose of magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

In the Australian Dietary Guidelines legumes are included as a vegetable, but also as a protein food - for vegetarians and vegans legumes are invaluable in this regard. Using the Dr Joanna Plate you can count legumes as either your protein choice when consuming a vegetarian meal, or as your smart carb.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
To cook from dry place the beans in a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak overnight. The next morning discard the soaking water, rinse well and transfer to a large pot. Cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and then cook for a couple of hours until soft. Adding a splash of oil to the pot helps to improve the texture. Be sure not to add any salt at this stage as it tends to split the skins and toughen the insides. Only add salt at the end of cooking or once using them in a dish.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Cassava
/kuh-sah-vuh/

Carbs

Cassava belongs in the vegie category of roots and tubers. It is less common in Australia, the US and Europe, but is a staple food for much of the developing world with Nigeria being the world's largest producer. It grows well in poor soils with not much rainfall and so much of sub-saharan Africa depends on cassava for survival. It is also common in the Pacific Islands, parts of Asia and South America.

Unfortunately in many of those countries cassava fills hungry bellies, but does not provide much protein and protein-energy malnutrition is common. Nevertheless it is an important provider of carbohydrate and it has a low GI when boiled and consumed fresh.

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates, but only has small levels of other nutrients including B group vitamins. It is a good source of vitamin C, although some of this will be lost if boiled - the usual preparation. Nevertheless this is important in parts of the world where there is a smaller supply of fresh fruits and vegies with higher vitamin C levels. 

Cassava starch is used to make tapioca - this is made into desserts (remember 'frog spawn pudding as a kid?!) but is commonly used in South America, particularly Brasil, but also parts of Asia and the Pacific.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Raw cassava contains toxins including cyanogenic glycocides and other anti-nutrients. If improperly prepared there can be enough left to cause severe health problems and goiters (enlarged thyroid gland). Ironically these same harmful chemicals helps the plant to resist pests and so African farmers often encourage breeding of those plant varieties with higher levels. Fortunately these are removed and the food is safe to eat if cooked properly. Any cooking water should be discarded if boiled, or cassava can safely be roasted or baked.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Chestnuts
/ches-nuhtz/

Carbs

According to Australian Chestnuts, despite the fact that we have grown chestnuts here for over 150 years, most of us are confused about how to prepare them, and a third of us have never tasted them! That is such a shame because they really are worthy of star food status.

I'm a fan of all nuts and seeds and there is clear evidence of their value in our diets. Chestnuts fall into this category, although they are a little different nutritionally and from a taste perspective to other nuts. Rather than crunchy like most other nuts, chestnuts are softer - a little more like the texture of a firm baked potato.

Nutritionally they are more like a wholegrain than a nut as they are low in fat and higher in carbohydrates. Chestnut meal has been GI tested and the result was low, so we can assume the whole chestnut would also be low, and probably is lower than the ground meal. This makes chestnuts a great choice for those with diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and the rest of us trying to eat for optimum health.

Chestnuts do provide some protein and they are gluten free. Chestnut meal can be used in conjunction with gluten-free flours to make delicious baking goods. Used in this way it helps to reduce the overall GI, often a problem with GF foods.

Chestnuts also provide good amounts of fibre, manganese, copper, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, B group vitamins and smaller but significant amounts of iron and zinc.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Chef Stefano Manfredi of Osteria Balla Manfredi at The Star and Manfredi at Bells restaurant at Killcare, has been working with Chestnuts Australia to encourage us all to enjoy the chestnut season. Chestnuts are part of Manfredi’s Italian heritage. He remembers eating chestnuts as a child in Italy and often includes them on the menus in his restaurants. Stefano has shared with us his guide to preparing chestnuts. Check out his guide to preparing chestnuts in my blog.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Chickpeas
/chik-pee/

Carbs

Chickpeas are legumes - the dried seeds of podded plants. They are known to have been cultivated for many thousands of years in the Middle East and are eaten in many cuisines. In Italy they are known as 'ceci' and are eaten in salads and in soup. In France they are called 'pois chiches' and they stew them in stock with herbs and also add them to soup. You may also have heard of them as 'garbanzos', their Spanish name, where they are also added to meat stews - a great idea as it makes expensive meat go much farther. The largest producers of chickpeas worldwide is India, where they are known as 'Bengal gram'.

You probably know them best in the Middle Eastern dish hummus, where the chickpeas are blended with tahini, garlic and lemon. Hummus is so much better homemade and if you have a food processor or blender it takes only a couple of minutes. You can of course buy it ready-made, and then I always read the ingredients list to look for the one with only the ingredients I use at home with no undesirable additives. Use hummus in sandwiches and wraps as your Dr Joanna Plate Good Fat (the fat comes mostly from the tahini), as a dip with carrot and celery sticks, and in many Middle Eastern style dishes. It's really good with chicken.

Nutritionally chickpeas are pretty fantastic. They are a good source of plant protein with every half cup providing 6g, and all of the essential amino acids are present in good quantities. This makes chickpeas a smart addition to vegetarian and vegan diets, but I encourage meat-eaters to reduce their reliance on animal foods and include more plant sources of protein in their diets too.

Chickpeas are full of fibre with a half cup providing 4g, and they'll also give you 13g of slow-release carbs - chickpeas have a very low GI. This mix of protein, fibre and low GI carbs makes them a smart choice to help control your appetite and blood glucose levels.

Although I've classified them in the Dr Joanna Plate as a protein choice, they can also count as your smart carb. Count them as your protein in vegetarian meals, and for meat and fish-eaters they're a terrific choice as your low GI carb. 

Chickpeas are also rich in many micronutrients. A half cup provides 14% of your recommended intake for folate - essential across your lifetime in protecting against DNA damage that ultimately causes aging. You'll also get 8% of your magnesium, 11% of your zinc and 9% of your iron for pre-menopausal women, 20% for men and post-menopausal women. If you don't eat meat, add a good source of vitamin C to the meal to help you absorb more of this plant iron.  
’s ‘Did You Know?’
You can buy your chickpeas dried or ready-to-eat in a can. Nothing is wrong with using the latter for convenience, and it probably means you will eat more chickpeas. I do look for brands that do not have plastic linings on their cans - but I have only seen one brand with this labelled externally. Trial and error is the only way to find out. If you do fancy cooking them yourself, soak the chickpeas in water overnight. Discard the soaking water and then put them in a large pan with fresh water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat so they are only gently simmering and cook for a couple of hours until tender.  

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Proteins

 
 
Coconut Sugar
/koh-kuh-nuht shoog-er/

Carbs

All things coconut are currently in vogue, and the latest product to gain popularity is coconut sugar, or as sometimes called coconut palm sugar. This has been used as a sweetener in traditional coconut growing areas, including Thailand and Indonesia, for centuries, and is now hailed as the latest ‘healthy’ sugar here.
 
It is made not from coconuts, but from the sap of the blossoms of the coconut palm tree. The sap is collected and then boiled to evaporate the water content, leaving a sugar that looks a little like raw or light brown sugar. It has a similar caramel flavour, but is much more expensive. 
 
Coconut sugar has just the same amount of carbohydrate, present as sugars, and kilojoules as regular table sugar. So substituting one for the other will not help you to reduce your energy intake.  Furthermore the sugars present are almost 80% sucrose – the same as in table sugar – with small amounts of free glucose and fructose. So it really is not all that different in composition to regular sugar.
 
It is also often touted as being healthier because it contains several vitamins and minerals. Since it is less refined than regular table sugar there are indeed a few trace nutrients present, but you’d have to eat an awful lot of it to get enough of these nutrients to be significant – and that would mean eating a whole lot of sugar! You’re far better off getting these nutrients in more nutrient-dense whole foods.
 
The bottom line is that if you like the taste of coconut sugar and are prepared to pay the price then by all means give it a go. But remember it is just another sugar that we are best to limit in our diets. For those truly trying to be sugar-free it's off your shopping list.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Much is made of the claim that coconut sugar has a low GI of 35, but this data comes from one study in the Philippines and is not listed in the International GI Tables. The verity of this study has therefore been questioned, particularly since the sugar was tested in solid form, and compared to pure glucose dissolved in water. This is not how you would consume the sugar. Since pure sucrose has a GI value of around 65, it’s hard to understand why coconut sugar, comprising 80% sucrose would be much different. It is possible there are other soluble fibres present that may lower the GI, but really this does not a health food make!

Nutritional Information

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Coconut Water
/koh-kuh-nuht waw-ter/

Carbs

Coconut water is the fluid from the middle of a young green coconut. As the coconut matures to the hard brown shell as we typically think of them, the water is mostly absorbed into the flesh. So the harvesting of coconuts for coconut water is different to that for other coconut products.

When I trekked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea our local guides would deftly slice the top off a fresh coconut from the tree for us to drink the contents. It tasted wonderful and helped us to stay hydrated, while providing some carbohydrate to fuel our trek. In Australia the closest we can get to this is to buy a drilled fresh green coconut with a straw - these are sold at many grocers, farmer's markets and other outlets. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day. 

A 250ml cup of coconut water is relatively low in energy, providing 220-250kJ (for comparison consider that a cup of apple juice has about 380kJ). It has no fat, no significant protein and 12-13g of carbohydrates, mostly present as sugars. Only one brand of coconut water is listed in the International GI Tables and the result was just into the low category, with a GI of 55 (low GI is classified as a score of 55 or less). 

Coconut water contains several nutrients, although there are discrepancies between brands and between different food databases. This may be due to seasonal variations in the coconuts, different varieties and coconuts grown in different regions. However in general coconut water contains good levels of potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin C, and has small but significant levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus and B group vitamins.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
A lot of extravagant claims are made about coconut water, and most of them are unsubstantiated. It is not some miracle cure for everything that ails us, but it is all natural, lower in kilojoules than fruit juices, and contributes to hydration. It does contain some electrolytes but this does not make it equivalent to a sports drink. Coconut water is high in potassium and has a small amount of sodium. For general health this is exactly what most of us need. However if you are doing long exercise sessions of more than 90 minutes duration, a sports drink is still the way to go as it is specially formulated with higher levels of sodium for maximal speed of absorption and replacement of the sodium lost in sweat. For the rest of us coconut water is a natural drink to be enjoyed. I often have one after a run in summer, and use them in my green smoothies - check out the recipe bank for some of my favourites.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Corn
/kawrn/

Carbs

Technically we ought to call it maize, as corn has come to mean a whole load of products produced from the cereal crop maize. Here we are specifically talking about fresh corn - either on the cob, or as the kernals removed from the cob and sold canned or frozen.

A cooked medium ear of corn provides around 335kJ, 3g pf protein, 10g of carbohydrate and 2g of fat. That's not much carbohydrate per cob so this makes corn ideal for those of you trying to keep your carbs down, but if you need a higher carb intake post exercise for example you are best to add another smart carb to your meal. I classify corn as a smart carb because it has a low GI of 48 (low GI is classified as 55 or less) and it's one of the most minimally processed cereals you can buy. I also love that portion control is made easy by cooking it directly on the cob. 

Corn is fibre-rich with a single cob providing almost 4g. It's also a good source of the B group vitamins thiamin, niacin and folate, and has significant amounts of the minerals magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
We often hear of foods of the ancient Mayan civilisation sold as superfoods, but did you know that corn was one of them? It is so widely cultivated today that we tend to forget it is in fact a ancient grain. Unfortunately there is much criticism of the genetic modification of corn in the US and the loss of crop diversity to make way for more corn (not all used for food), that the health aspects of corn as a food are lost. In Australia corn is not so widely grown and genetically modified plants are not cultivated. My thoughts are this a crop humans have eaten for many thousands of years, nutritionally it delivers far more than more popular grains such as rice, and it's mouth-wateringly good with a little olive oil, black pepper and sprinkle of sea salt and grilled on the BBQ.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Cornflour
/kawrn flou-er/

Carbs

Cornflour is made from the starchy centre of maize kernels (the endosperm), ground up into a fine white flour. What is known as cornflour in Australia and the UK is called cornstarch in the US - a much more descriptive term for what it really is. It is used as a thickening agent in cooking and food production. 

Cornflour is gluten free and so suitable for those with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. Mix a spoonful of two of cornflour with water and then add to gravy and sauces to thicken. If you make an egg custard from scratch, cornflour helps to emulsify and stop the custard from curdling. 

I wouldn't worry about the nutrition or GI of cornflour too much as you will usually only use a very small amount. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
In the US corn flour is quite different - it is the ground whole kernel and so is actually a corn meal. This makes it far more nutritious, as with any wholegrain flour compared to the white flour. It can be yellow or white and is used in baking, usually mixed with other types of flour. Corn bread for example is made from corn meal. 

Nutritional Information

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Farro
/Farro/

Carbs

Farro is the Italian name for emmer which is an ancient variety of wheat. Although we think of wheat as being one type of grain, in fact there are three major types of wheat. The oldest is diploid wheat and varieties in this group are now rare. The only one you might come across is einkorn, known to have been cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. The second group fall under tetraploid wheat and these include khorasan, emmer and durum wheat used to make pasta. The third group hexaloid wheat is the most common and includes the modern varieties most commonly used in bread making, but also the other ancient wheat variety spelt.

Farro is versatile and is ideal for use in salads, soups, baking or as a side dish such as a pilaf. Emmer and other ancient wheats must have their outer husk removed to be eaten so you will find these in the health food aisle, online or at specialty stores sold without their husk (pearled) or cracked.

To cook add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of emmer and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drain.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Emmer was one was one of the first grains ever domesticated by humans. Ancient varieties of wheat are nutritionally similar to modern day wheats, however anecdotally many people report having problems with modern industrialised wheat but are fine with ancient varieties such as emmer, khorasan (kamut) and spelt.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Freekeh
/free-kah/

Carbs

Freekeh is an ancient Eastern Mediterranean grain food, made from roasted green wheat. Because the grain is harvested while young it has a far higher nutrient content, including more protein, than mature wheat.

Nutritionally Freekeh is far superior to many other grains and the more common carbohydrate-rich foods we eat. Freekeh has up to four times the fibre of brown rice, provides more protein than mature wheat and most other grains (it has a similar protein content to pasta which is also made from durum wheat) and is a good source of iron, magnesium, thiamin, copper and zinc.

A large proportion of the carbohydrate present is resistant starch. This means we can’t break it down and it acts like a fibre, passing through the gut to the colon where it promotes the growth of friendly bacteria. Having a healthy gut flora boost your immune function, can help improve blood cholesterol profiles, and even has a connection to brain health and your mood!

The CSIRO have been studying Freekeh and found both the cracked and whole grains to be low GI. All in all this makes Freekeh hard to beat for those trying to manage their weight, prevent or manage diabetes, reduce the risk of heart disease and promote good bowel health….that’s just about all of us. 

If you're coeliac do note that freekeh is not gluten free.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
The story goes that in 2300 BC a nation in the Eastern Mediterranean picked the heads of their wheat harvest while still young and green as they needed to store food to see them through an expected siege on their walled city. During the conquest the store of green wheat caught fire and the outer grains were burned. In an attempt to salvage their food store, they rubbed the heads of the wheat and found this exposed delicious toasted green grains. They called the new style of grain ‘freekeh’, meaning in their ancient Aramaic language ‘the rubbed one’. The people of the Eastern Mediterranean have eaten freekeh ever since.

Nutritional Information

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Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Green Banana Flour
/green buh-nan-uh flouuh r/

Carbs

Green banana flour is a really interesting product and I've been having fun experimenting with it. I have a huge interest in gut health and how our diet influences the types and amounts of bacterial groups living within the gut. A particular type of fibre called resistant starch has recently been recognised as be a key influencer as it 'feeds' the good bacteria, encouraging their growth to the detriment of the bad guys. This is why green banana flour caught my attention. Green bananas are high in resistant starch and so the resultant flour has real potential as a functional food with knock-on gut and other health benefits.

CSIRO here in Australia recommend that we consume 20g of resistant starch daily, yet most of us are only getting about 5g. About 40g of green banana flour provides 20g of resistant starch - that's only 2 tablespoons. So although the carbohydrate content of green banana flour looks to be similar to wheat flour, about two thirds of it is resistant starch. In other words it is carbohydrate that is resistant to breakdown in the small intestine by our own digestive enzymes, and so instead it enters the colon where it is fermented by the gut bacteria. This releases beneficial short chain fatty acids that help to keep the cells of the colon healthy, but also boost our immune function and are absorbed up into the blood stream with various other health effects throughout the body. We also obtain some energy from this process, so the gut bacteria are essentially helping us to digest and make use of the food.

For more information and to purchase online go to naturalevolutionfoods.com.au
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Green banana flour is also gluten free so ideal for coeliacs or those with a gluten intolerance. It doesn't taste of bananas so if you don't like the fresh fruit don't let that put you off. I have successfully used it in pizza bases, muffins and other baking. If you don't need the recipe to be gluten free, try substituting some of the wheat flour with green banana flour to lower the carbohydrate, glycaemic load and boost the fibre and resistant starch. 

Nutritional Information

Gluten Free

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Honey
/huhn-ee/

Carbs

Honey is truly one of the most natural sweeteners we can use. There is evidence of honey being eaten since hunter-gatherer days, and honey has even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs.
 
Honey bees make honey in their hives using the nectar from flowers. The local flora therefore makes an impact on the flavour profile of the honey. Pure floral honeys have low GI values, but the cheaper blended honeys tend to be high. For a low GI honey look for Yellow Box, Stringy Bark, Red Gum, Iron Bark, Yapunya, Eucalypt or those labeled as pure floral honey.
 
In terms of nutrition remember that honey is still sugar. It is about 17% water, but the rest is a combination of sugars, primarily fructose and glucose. There are a few vitamins and minerals present, but in very small quantities that are really not all that relevant in the quantities of honey you are likely to consume.
 
In conclusion honey is an all-natural, minimally processed sweetener and has been part of our diets for many thousands of years. But it is still sugar and as with all sugars is best used sparingly to bring a little sweetness to your whole food diet.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Honey has long been considered medicinal by many cultures, including in Ayurvedic medicine. Honey has anti-bacterial qualities, although varieties vary in this regard. Manuka honey contains a particular antibacterial compound, made from the nectar of the manuka bush. These honeys have a particular scale used to indicate the antibacterial power of the honey – this is called the UMF factor (Unique Manuka Factor). These honeys are marketed as being effective for sore throats, gastro upsets and several other conditions, however the evidence for this is pretty weak. The most benefit seems to be when used topically for the treatment of wounds, burns and infections.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian
 
 
Kamut
/kah-moot/

Carbs

Kamut is the brand name for an ancient variety of wheat called khorasan. Although we think of wheat as being one type of grain, in fact there are three major types of wheat. The oldest is diploid wheat and varieties in this group are now rare. The only one you might come across is einkorn, known to have been cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. The second group fall under tetraploid wheat and these include khorasan, emmer and durum wheat used to make pasta. The third group hexaloid wheat is the most common and includes the modern varieties most commonly used in bread making, but also the other ancient wheat variety spelt.

Both spelt and kamut are making something of a comeback in the developed world. This is partly as a backlash against the widespread use of only a handful of modern wheat varieties. Although we imagine we have great diversity in our diets, in fact because seeds are now sold around the world, there are fewer varitites of many plants and ancient strains are being lost. 

Anecdotally many people claim that while modern bread and wheat products cause them digestive or other health problems, they are able to consume kamut and other ancient wheat varieties. As yet this is not backed up by published research and so it's difficult to know what is really going on. Early research is looking at whether there are differences in gluten levels (one of the major proteins in wheat) or other factors in the grain that could explain digestive differences. 

Until we know more it does seem a good thing to diversify our intake of grains and I for one like the idea of keeping ancient grain varieties alive. There are some wonderful quality breads and other products made with kamut that are well worth trying in your diet. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
A small study conducted by scientists in Florence Italy, found that replacement of regular wheat products with similar products made from kamut wheat had postive effects on several cardiovascular risk factors. Blood cholesterol profiles were improved, blood potassium and magnesium levels were increased, and several markers of inflammation were reduced. This was only a small study with 22 subjects, but was well designed and the subjects did not know which type of wheat they were consuming in each phase of the trial. It certainly warrants more research into the benefits of ancient grains. 
Ref: EJCN 2013; 67 (2): 190-5

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Lentils
/len-tils/

Carbs

Lentils are often thought of as vegetarian fare and since they are one of the best plant sources of iron, they are indeed a fantastic food to include if you don't eat meat. Just be sure to include a food rich in vitamin C at the same time to help improve the absorption of the non-haem (plant) iron. 

But if you are a meat eater there are many good reasons to add lentils to your shopping list. I love to use them as my smart carb as they are one of the lowest GI foods with most values in the range 20-30 depending on the type. They therefore deliver there energy slowly with minimal impacts on blood glucose levels, and require minimal insulin to be dealt with by the body. 

They are also a good plant protein source and this is why you can alternatively count them as your protein on the Dr Joanna Plate as part of a vegetarian meal. A cup of lentils will provide around 18g of protein.

They are also a great choice for those trying to get lean and stay lean. They have a high nutrient density but low energy density, with less than 500kJ per 1/2 cup cooked. Those nutrients include folate, essential for cellular health, including the building of new cells and the protection against damage of existing cells. This makes folate an essential anti-aging nutrient.

Finally lentils are terrific for gut health and help to bost the numbers of good bacteris in your gut. A half cup of lentils provides around 8g of fibre putting you well on your way to your daily target of 25-30g. If you're not used to it, you might therefore find lentils make you a bit farty to begin with. But I urge you to stick with it! If you build up slowly to allow your gut time to adjust, you'll gain the benefits. However those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find it too difficult to get used to lentils. All I can suggest is start small!
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Lentils are brilliant in a meal in place of our more regular carbs such as potatoes. I love to cook them with garlic and herbs, then serve with chicken or fish and plenty of veg. You can also use them to eek out the meat a little further - a great way to budget as they cost far less. Try adding them to bolognaise, lasagne, burgers and meatballs.

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Maca Powder
/maca pou-der/

Carbs

Maca is the root of a plant native to Peru and the Andes mountains. It has been consumed there for several thousand years, but is gaining in notoriety as a health food in the West. It is claimed to help with numerous conditions including chronic fatigue, menstrual problems, menopause, to enhance energy, and as an aphrodisiac. There is some evidence to suggest it may be useful for the latter, at least in men, but unfortunately there just isn’t the evidence for other conditions.
 
Nutritionally it is an incredibly rich source of vitamin C, iron, copper and calcium, and a very good source of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (possibly explaining the benefit for menstrual symptoms), potassium and manganese. As with most roots most of the energy comes from carbohydrates, but maca powder also contains about 14% protein and provides a good dose of fibre. 
’s ‘Did You Know?’
You can add maca powder to smoothies, juices or sprinkle over your muesli or cereal. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian
 
 
Maple Syrup
/ma·ple syr·up/

Carbs

Maple syrup is the concentrated sap of the maple tree. Be careful not to confuse maple-flavoured syrups with the real thing. These are usually just a processed glucose syrup with added flavourings to mimic the real thing. It’s much cheaper as a result.
 
Real maple syrup is so much tastier and since it's far sweeter than regular sugar you can use less. It contains small amounts of nutrients, including riboflavin, manganese and zinc, but let's be honest - we can get these nutrients in far greater quantities elsewhere. However it also contains a whole host of antioxidant compounds - the darker the colour the more antioxidants present. These may well be of benefit to our health. 
 
The sugars present in maple syrup are primarily sucrose, with small amounts of glucose and fructose. It has a low GI of 54, making it a good choice for blood glucose control.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
I love using maple syrup as an all natural, minimally processed sweetener and it tastes fabulous. When using maple syrup in place of table sugar, you only need about 2/3 of the amount, allowing you to cut down the total sugar level. 

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs

 
 
Millet
/mil-it/

Carbs

Before rice was widely eaten in Asia, it is thought that different varieties of millet were the staple grain. Today millet is consumed all over the world, with India the largest producer and Nigeria coming in second.

Millet is almost always consumed as a whole grain and so delivers protein, fibre and B group vitamins. Millet has a mild flavour which pairs well with many foods and can be prepared to a produce a fluffy side dish similar to couscous or a creamy like porridge. We often use millet in salads where you can count the millet as the smart carb on your Plate.

To cook add 2-2½ cups of water to 1 cup of millet and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Toasting millet before cooking helps to bring out the full flavour.
’s ‘Did You Know?’
Millet is gluten free so is perfect for coeliacs and anyone on low gluten diets. But I encourage all of us to diversify the grains we consume so give millet a shot!

Nutritional Information

Dairy free Gluten Free Nut free Vegan Vegetarian

Dr Joanna Plate Category: Smart Carbs