The argument for and against carbs is still a huge topic.
On the one hand, it is suggested that half of our calories should come from carbohydrates. On the other hand, some claim that carbs cause obesity and Type 2 diabetes and that most people should avoid eating them.
The reality is that some people eat plenty with no ill effects and others do better with a diet that has fewer carbs, so how do you make the right choice for you?
What Are Carbs?
We can all remember vaguely being taught in school about carbohydrates at some point. Basically, carbs can be split into three main categories: sugars, starches and fibre.
The main purpose of carbohydrates in our diet is to provide energy. Most carbs get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy. Carbs can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use.
Fibre is an exception. It does not provide energy directly, but it does feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. The bacteria can use the fibre to produce fatty acids that some of our cells can use as energy.
Which are the good carbs?
Not all carbs are the same and different types of carbohydrate-containing foods vary greatly in their effect on your health. They are commonly referred to as simple or complex, but to make it easier to understand which are good and which are bad it might be easier to call them “whole” or “refined”.
Whole carbs are unprocessed and retain the fibre found naturally in the food, while refined carbs have been processed and had the natural fibre removed.
Whole (good) carbs include:
- Vegetables; all vegetables
- Whole fruits; apples, bananas, strawberries etc
- Legumes; lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.
- Nuts; almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.
- Seeds; pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
- Whole grains; pure oats, quinoa, brown rice etc.
- Tubers; potatoes, sweet potatoes etc.
People who are trying to restrict carbohydrates need to be careful with the whole grains, legumes, tubers and high-sugar fruit.
Refined (bad) carbs include:
- Sugary drinks; Coca-cola, Pepsi etc. are some of the unhealthiest things you can put into your body.
- Fruit juices; fruit juices may have similar metabolic effects as sugar-sweetened beverages.
- White bread; most commercially available breads contain refined carbohydrates that are low in essential nutrients.
- Pastries, cookies and cakes; high in sugar and refined wheat.
- Ice cream; most types of ice cream are high in sugar, although there are exceptions.
- Sweets and chocolates; if you’re going to eat chocolate choose quality dark chocolate.
- French fries and crisps; although whole potatoes are healthy, these are not.
Refined carbs can cause major spikes in blood sugar levels, which leads to a subsequent crash that can trigger hunger and cravings for more high-carb foods. Refined carbs are usually devoid of essential nutrients and are often referred to as empty calories. Whole food sources of carbohydrates are loaded with nutrients and fibre and don’t cause the same spikes and dips in your blood sugar. Eating high-fibre carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruit and whole grains is linked to improved metabolic health and a lower risk of disease.
However, whilst it is easy to categorise carbs as good or bad, this is just a general guideline.
Should I follow a low-carb diet?
While it is true that added sugars and refined carbs are linked to increased obesity, fibre-rich, whole-food sources of carbohydrates are not.
Humans have been eating carbs for thousands of years, in some form or another. However, the increase in numbers of people classified as obese, which also coincided with the type 2 diabetes epidemic only started in the last 30 years. So it is inaccurate to blame modern health issues on a food type that has been consumed for thousands of years. In fact there are some populations today that still have excellent health although their consumption of carbs is high. Those populations are often in countries where rice is a main staple but more importantly they only eat whole, unprocessed foods.
If you have a lot of weight to lose or have health problems like Type 2 diabetes, then reducing your carbohydrate intake can have life-saving benefits.
As long as you are healthy you don’t need to avoid carbs altogether, just make sure you try and eat “whole” carbs only. If you burn lots of calories naturally or you exercise a lot you may even function better with plenty of carbs in your diet.
BodyUK Can Help
At BodyUK we understand that knowing what to eat to maintain a healthy diet can be confusing. That’s why we aim to make it simple and clear at BodyUK about what you should eat to support your fitness goals. If you would like to find out more about where you may be going wrong in your diet, then contact the BodyUK Head Coach Jem, who will be happy to offer advice with a FREE one-on-one consultation. Jem can be reached by email [email protected]