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‘Carbs are bad for you and will make you gain weight- you should cut them out’
It would seem that carbohydrates have got a really bad reputation over the last few years. They have been unfairly demonised and wrongly associated with and blamed for weight gain. Let’s establish one thing: carbs are NOT inherently bad for you and are not the sole cause of weight gain. The cause of weight gain is eating more than you need and not engaging in enough physical activity/ movement. In fact you can gain weight if you eat too much of ANY food group.
A little lesson on carbs: carbohydrates are your body’s and your brains preferred source of energy. Your brain uses carbohydrates reglarly even when you are sedentary (not active). Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during digestion your body them metabolises that glucose into ATP (energy currency) during complex intricate metabolic processes. Any glucose that is not used/ needed immediately is stored as glycogen in your liver and muscle cells. Glycogen is an energy reserve.
The terms ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’ are terms used frequently within the realm of diet and nutrition however- there is not any such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad foods’ – associating these positive and negative words with foods can facilitate unhealthy relationships with food. It is not very helpful to give some food superiority status and others negative connotations. In light of this, instead of ‘good’ carbs lets give them a more scientific name ‘complex carbohydrates’ – these are digested more slowly due to their fibre content meaning you get a steadier supply of energy as opposed to a blood sugar spike. Examples of complex carbs are as follows: brown rice, brown pasta, quinoa + oats. Then you also can have ‘simple carbohydrates’ (sometimes referred to as ‘bad’ carbohydrates)- these carbs are released more quickly and give a quicker energy release due to their lack of fibre. These foods are not bad- they can have a really valuable place within the diet: ie when you need a quick burst of energy. Athlete’s will often consume things such as jelly babies because these will sustain them and provide a fast release of energy for exercise- they don’t want something that takes longer to digest because they need the energy quickly. With food- context always matters.
It helps to be smart about what you consume with these ‘simple’ carbs: ie pairing them with healthy fats/protein slows down the release of sugars.
Touching briefly on fibre, as a nation we are not getting enough fibre. National statistics from the NDNS show the average person gets about half of the recommended daily amount. Not getting enough fibre can have a direct negative effect in both Cardiovascular health and gut health. Fibre is mainly found in complex carbohydrates (as previously discussed) so if you cut out/decrease intake you are actually reducing a food group which is protective to your overall health. In short, it is not advised by any qualified health professional to eliminate this important food group from your dietary pattern.
Take home message: carbohydrates aren’t not inherently bad for you, so let’s stop vilifying them. Be smart about your choices and quantity of them: try to focus more on fibre rich (complex carbs).