Carbohydrates - friends or frenemies?
Giving up carbohydrates is just unnatural
‘In my clinical experience I found that we can include carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates and still reach a substantial weight-loss of 1kg a week and maintain a healthy weight’- Kylie Morris (Nutritionist)
Scrolling through Facebook how many low-carbohydrate diets do we see? In recent years, weight-loss doesn’t seem to be that simple and low-carbohydrate diets aren’t anything new. In fact, if you were to stick with a low-carb diet you would shed those unwanted kilos...temporarily. But what about the long-term effects of eating little or no carbohydrates? Equally worrisome is the inclusion of unhealthy fats, processed meat and high intake of protein that comes with low-carb diets. A study conducted by the department of diabetes and metabolic medicine in Japan found, “Low-carb diets generally go hand-in-hand with more animal protein, red and processed meat consumption, a positive risk factor of cancer and cardiovascular disease”. The study further says, that low-carbohydrate diets are associated with a significantly higher risk of mortality in the long run. So, are we doing ourselves justice or injustice when we cut carbohydrates?
We have all cut back on calories and lost weight on almost any diet. Perhaps the real issue isn’t losing weight but keeping weight off. One could argue that the reason we can’t seem to keep the weight off is defined by our basic human functions that require carbohydrates.
Back to basics
Carbohydrates are our primary source of fuel and defined as any foods that contain ‘OSE’ at the end of the word; for example: fructose, lactose and maltose. Vegetables are classified as carbohydrates, so is fruit and then there are the ‘starchy carbs’ – what most magazines call carbs. Glucose is what we need to fuel our bodies. Carbohydrates also contain other vital nutrients such as fibre - to keep us regular; magnesium - to relax our nervous system and muscles; and an array of b-vitamins to keep our energy levels pumping. So, it makes sense why we are drawn to them and have an urgency to eat carbohydrates when we aren’t getting enough. So, really… are they truly the enemy as the media makes out?
Carbohydrates are in almost every food and pretty much inescapable. Whether you are consuming carbohydrates from milk or bread, the body doesn’t discriminate between them. It just registers to ‘OSE’. The key lies in which type of carbohydrate and knowing how much is going to give sustainable weight-loss and keep your health in check.
I’ll let you in on a little secret - us humans - we aren’t built for weight-loss. Our bodies are made to put on fat. It’s a survival mechanism that dates back centuries. Great for the next ice-age. Pity, we live in Australia and the actual reality of that happening is zero… So, what cost does this survival mechanism have on consuming low-carb diets. Those that desperately want to lose weight, won’t necessarily keep it off unless a more sustainable approach is taken. More to the point, you may be skinny but at what cost? Increased risk of chronic disease and a decrease in life years?
Moderation is key
Most of us will look, feel and perform our best when we balance a reasonable amount of quality carbohydrates with healthy fats and lean protein sources. Our standard portion size recommendations aren’t just what professionals think is best. It’s what they know is best, based on careful research and years of back and forth study.
Everything is needed in balance. When your balance is out, that is when you see unwanted numbers on the scales and clothes becoming tighter. Of course if you eat more carbohydrates than you require, or any food that yields energy for that matter, then the excess is going to be stored as fat. Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy.
Perhaps more of an emphasis should be placed on eating carbohydrates in moderation. You can still lose the bulge long-term and add vitality that comes with eating carbohydrates. The trick with moderation is; listen to your body. One way to do this to breathe deeply: imagine a balloon being filled, when you breathe in - fill your belly with air. When you breathe out, imagine the balloon deflating, pulling your belly back towards your spine, expelling the air. Do this before, during and after eating. It will help you to know how hungry you truly are. Understanding the basic functions of the body will empower you with knowledge of what type of carbohydrates and how much you require. This will lead to sustainable weight-loss. Brown or wholemeal bread/wrap, check the label to make sure the wholewheat or another wholegrain is in the top five ingredients listed. Remember 1 slice of bread = 1 serve. Start the day with some hearty whole-grains. If you are partial to hot cereals, try traditional oats. If you’re a cold cereal person, look for one that lists wholewheat, whole oats, or other wholegrain first on the ingredient list. Remember ½ a cup cooked = 1 serve. Bag the potatoes. Instead, try brown rice, or even ‘newer’ grains like bulgur, millet or quinoa with your dinner. Remember ½ a cup cooked = 1 serve. Bring the beans back. Beans are a great source of slowly digested carbohydrates as a well as great source of protein. Remember ½ a cup cooked = 1 serve
The bottom line, our bodies need carbohydrates. Without them we just can’t function optimally. Whether we give our bodies what they need or not, the body’s survival mechanism is going to try and find it, regardless. Whether its carbohydrate from milk, rice malt syrup or fruit, if you don’t consume enough, you will crave it and worse, end up consuming more than you need. Start with adding a little carbohydrate to your daily meals. Who knows - carbohydrates could become your best friend.
Written by Alex Lindeberg