Just in the last week I saw two headlines, one that said along the lines of eat less carbs to loss weight and the other which made the front page of the NZ Herald said to eat a high carbohydrate diet for longevity. While I assume it was a pretty slow news day and while I know that these headlines are effectively click bait I do wonder if many people would actually read the entire article. Let’s take the NZ Herald story as an example; because I know I battled through the whole article! And if you did the same you would have seen one tiny sentence right at the end stating that this study was performed on mice! See my point here? Turns out we are not mice! So it is no wonder you are confused as to whether you should eat carbohydrates or not. So let me cut through these headlines and explain to you what carbohydrates are, which ones you should be eating and get rid of these myths while we are at it. Because if you know how carbohydrates work, how they affect our bodies and why you need them. I hope we can all have a much healthier attitude towards them and not buy into these headlines or fad-diets we see all over the internet. Because lets be honest, the odds of you sticking to that fad diet is very low and you’ll end up crashing out of it.
What are carbohydrates?
So this is potentially where a lot of the confusion starts, because not all carbohydrates are equal. Carbohydrates are sugars and starches that will be eventually broken down to glucose (a form of sugar) in your body or dietary fibre which we can’t break down. While our body needs glucose to function correctly, it is incredibly important that we are choosing the right type. Foods that are rich in carbohydrate can be categorised into four main groups:
- Simple sugars: white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, rice malt syrup, agave
- White complex carbohydrates: white bread, pasta, rice, flour and cereals
- Wholegrain complex carbohydrates: wholemeal bread, pasta, rice, flour and cereals
- Vegetables and fruits: root vegetables such as kumara, parsnips, carrots,
Why do we need carbohydrates?
Our bodies need carbohydrate for energy and if they don’t get it from carbohydrates they break down fat and protein instead. And we need protein as its essential for growth and repair, so using it for energy is incredibly inefficient and can lead to muscle wastage (and we don’t want that!). Choosing the right carbohydrates (complex) is the best way to maintain stable blood sugar levels which helps us concentrate throughout the day. So lets get rid of this hate and guilt surrounding carbs and start including them in your diet the right way.
So what carbohydrates should you be eating?
Let’s quickly cover those you should be limiting; Simple carbohydrates are those that have been heavily refined, such as anything white, plain sugar and sugary processed foods. These are quickly digested and are normally empty calories. While you may think you feel great while consuming them which is due to the large blood sugar spike, this quick rise is also followed by a quick fall that makes as feel sluggish and tired. Can you see the trap here? The key is to eat more complex carbohydrates as these not only take longer to break down and therefore provide more sustained energy but they are also packed with more nutrients and fibre that our bodies love to use. You can make easy swaps here such as brown rice instead of white rice, wholemeal pasta instead of white pasta, and a grainy bread instead of white bread. And yes you can even get wholemeal wraps and bagels these days! Other great choices are quinoa, wholemeal couscous and wholemeal flour. Getting your carbohydrates from vegetables are other great options because they are super high in vitamins and minerals too. Choose vegetables such as kumara, yams, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Remember its what you normally add to these carbohydrates which make them unhealthy.
How much should you be eating?
This of course will vary from person to person however keeping it simple; its important not to double up and to start getting your carbohydrates (complex) from a variety of sources. So if you are making a curry that has kumara or potato in it, thats your carb for that meal. You don’t need rice too. Or if you have a grainy bread for breakfast have quinoa with your salad for lunch. And when serving up remember how the ideal plate should look like – 1/2 vegetables (the non starch kind), 1/4 protein and 1/4 carbohydrates.
If you would like help with meal ideas and plans , contact NZ Registered Nutritionist Larissa Beeby for your own nutrition consultation either online, in person or over the phone.
Director / NZ Registered Nutritionist