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Carbs: The Story Behind the Scapegoat

Put down that Keto bar. There's no need to battle carbs any longer. They aren't your enemy.


Carbohydrates have unfairly been labelled as an enemy for decades, with phrases like ‘No carbs before Marbs’ (cringe) repeatedly heard before holidays.

woman grabbing a slice of pizza

It’s no wonder we have now have carbophobes in society with extremely low carb diets like Atkins and Keto gaining so much popularity. Proponents of these diets claim significant weight can be lost on them (more to come on that later) but has the weight eventually crept back on? Most probably. Why? Because we know restriction is never the answer. That applies to anything when it comes to fat loss, not just carbs. If you can’t give it up forever, then don’t bother giving it up at all. And I know personally that bread is not a lifelong sacrifice I’m willing to make…


Being a bit more ‘carb-conscious’ in our choices can definitely go a long way with this food group though, so understanding different types of carbs and what to aim for is beneficial.

SIMPLE AND COMPLEX CARBS


Carbohydrates are sugars that come in two forms: simple and complex (also referred to as simple sugars and starches). The differences between a simple and complex carb are in the speed of digestion, rate of glucose absorption in the body, and its chemical structure.


Simple carbohydrates are called simple sugars and are found in a wide range of natural food sources including fruit, vegetables and milk, giving food that sweet taste we love. However, the issue is that they also raise blood glucose levels quickly. Limiting foods with added sugar such as soft drinks, confectionary snacks, breakfast cereals and ready meals can ensure blood sugar levels do not fluctuate too much and issues such as poor appetite control and tooth decay can be avoided. It’s also wise to limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you consume to no more than 150 ml, or a small glass, each day.


Complex carbohydrates refer to whole grain foods and starchy vegetables, which are more slowly absorbed than refined carbohydrates and is what we should be opting for the majority of the time. Strictly speaking, the term complex carbohydrate refers to any starches, including the highly refined starches found in things like white bread, cakes and most pastries. However, aiming for wholegrain versions is optimal as it will boost fibre intake, keep you fuller for longer, keep your digestion healthy and reduce the likelihood of weight gain. Winner!


Considering we are a population that doesn’t even meet half of our recommended fibre intake (30g per day), avoiding grains in a carb-free diet means you would be eliminating a major source of fibre, which can have serious adverse consequences to our digestion. Rather than cutting carbs out, switch it to wholegrain versions. Whole wheat pasta has twice the fibre content of white pasta and is high in B vitamins, which we need to help us obtain energy from food.

CARBS AND ENERGY LEVELS


For stable energy levels, 50 - 55% of our energy needs should be dietary carbohydrate as it is the most important fuel for the body. Of the 50% carbohydrate, at least 45% should come from starchy carbohydrates, preferably wholegrain ones.


And just because you’re not powerlifting 5 hours a day, doesn’t mean your requirements are reduced. Even if you are sitting behind a desk all day, not physically moving, your brain still requires a lot of fuel. Just like the rest of the body, the brain uses glucose (a component of carbohydrate) as its main energy source. That’s why restricting your carbohydrate intake will mean you find it difficult to concentrate and may experience severe mood swings.

CARBS AND WEIGHT LOSS


If “best diet for weight loss” is in your recent internet searches, you’ve probably come across something called the Ketogenic diet. If you start out with one of these, it’s likely you’ll see a big reduction in the number on the scales, which can be very motivating. The trouble is, although you’re dropping kilos quickly, you're not losing body fat in the initial stages — you're just losing water weight and if you start eating carbs again, the weight will bounce straight back up.

If you want the health and long term benefits associated with weight loss, it's body fat you need to lose — not water. Weight loss is often an umbrella term we see advertised for various diets but we really need to be more specific in what we’re looking for, which is most probably fat loss.


When we eat carbohydrates, our body converts it to glycogen, a form of glucose that can be turned into energy wherever and whenever we need it. Glycogen loves water and so for each gram of glycogen we store in our body, we also store around three to four grams of water. So the average person on a very low-carb diet could lose around 2-2.5kg initially as they deplete their glycogen and the water stored with it. However, the moment you start hitting the carbs again, back comes all that water weight.


No bread forever? Rather you than me.


THE TAKEAWAYS


In carbclusion, carbs are fully acceptable and welcome in our diets. Choosing the right types to eat more of is what will make a big difference to your health goals. Aim for 50% of your total daily food intake to come from carbs and prioritise having complex carbs whenever you can. Cutting carbs or severely restricting them is pretty unsustainable for most and really should be limited to medical interventions. The initial weight loss is basically from water rather than fat and you’ll be left with little energy to train and may even suffer concentration problems. It always comes back to balance, practising portion control and leaving room for the things you love without overdoing it. Let’s start treating carbs as the energy, not the enemy.


If you would like support in your health journey, book your free consultation with me today. As an award-winning health coach and fitness trainer, I help busy women achieve optimal health without severe restriction or dieting.

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