We all know someone who’s dead set on “cutting carbs”. There’s a family member who swears that potatoes make them ‘sluggish’. Someone in your class on the Keto diet who carries boiled eggs around with them in their handbag (how many can they actually fit in there?!). And then there’s that colleague who (for whatever reason) feels like it is appropriate to discuss how bread ‘blocks them up’ (WHY?!).
Carbs get a bad wrap (wrap… get it?). We’re constantly bombarded with messages that carbohydrates promote weight gain – that grains cause inflammation and that white rice is really ‘bad for us’.
Take a breath. Consider this. People have lived and thrived for literally thousands of years eating carbohydrates. There were bakers (and their bread!) found in the ruins of Pompei! Nutrition science continues to support carbohydrate containing foods as an essential component of your diet to promote great health, so why do we keep hearing that we have to ‘ditch the carbs’ to get healthy?
Breaking down carbs
Carbohydrates are one of the main macronutrients (macro = big, nutrient = something we eat to sustain life, growth and development), along with protein, fat, water and, more recently, fibre. Most simply, carbohydrates are sugars (made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen). You’ll find them in lots of different foods, from the more obvious choices like bread, pasta and rice, to the less obvious options, like fruit, dairy and vegetables.
Carbs – the bad wrap
Let’s take a moment to consider where carbs get their bad reputation come from. Here are just a few of my few ideas.
1) RESTRICTIVE DIETS You’ve probably heard of Keto, Paleo, Carnivore and Atkins. These diets promote (but do not guarantee!) weight loss by limiting/avoiding carbohydrates. When we’re told to avoid a food, it gives the impression that it is unhealthy – but there’s really no evidence to support this.
2) THE ‘GLUTEN FREE’ ERA
The increased understanding of Coeliac Disease in recent years has encouraged a variety of gluten free products to enter our supermarket aisles. Great! However, a lot of the associated marketing with these products suggests that Gluten Free is somehow healthier than gluten containing. Unless you’re allergic or sensitive to gluten, this really isn’t the case.
3) GOOD VS BAD CARBS
We’ve all been told – sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes (not true), white bread is ‘bad for you’ (what does that even mean?) and that brown rice is superior to white rice ( just, no, OK?) Sure, different foods have different properties, but no two people are the same, so it isn’t fair to assume that a certain food is going to be the best choice for everyone.
Carbs – it’s a yes from me!
There are so many reasons why carbohydrate containing foods should play an important role in your dietary intake every day!
Lots of carb containing foods are packed full of fibre, like wholegrain bread, pasta, fruit and starchy vegetables like corn and potato. Fibre helps to promote regular bowel movements, feed your healthy gut bacteria and leave you feeling full after a meal.
BRAIN AND BODY FUEL
Did you know that carbohydrates are your brains preferred source of energy? Your body has so many cool organs and processes that are designed to break down carbs for fuel.
Carbohydrates are in so many health-promoting foods, like wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, which are also full of vitamins and minerals that protect you against poor health.
VARIETY AND ENJOYMENT
What is a poached egg without its sourdough? A curry without its naan? A ramen without its noodle? Life (and food) were meant to be enjoyed.
You are the expert of your own body, tastes, energy and hunger. Your job is to honour your preferences and really enjoy the experience that is eating, in whatever form that takes for you. The only carbs I’ll be cutting this summer is my toast. Into soldiers. To dip into my poached eggs.
Rachel is a clinical Accredited Practising Dietitian and a Les Mills Group Fitness Instructor at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness.