Carbs, carbs, carbs! Should you give up carbs? People talk about carbs like they talk about wicked step-mothers in fairy tales. But do carbs deserve such a bad rap? We don’t think so and here’s why…
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with fuel to produce energy just like a car needs fuel to run. They are the main nutrient we use to produce energy. We also get dietary energy from protein and fat, but the primary nutrient our bodies use for producing energy is carbs. Changing our primary energy source from carbohydrates to fat or protein means changing the pathways in which our bodies produce energy which is like trying to get from Perth to Sydney via Darwin instead of across the Nullarbor. Besides, omitting carbs from our diets is not sustainable and we wouldn’t last too long without them.
Food sources of Carbs
The main food source of carbs is from the grains food group which includes whole grains, rice, pasta, noodles, breads etc. But did you know that one of the major nutrients we get from fruit and vegetables is also carbs? Fruit and vegetables provide us with lots of other essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals but we use the carbohydrate in fruit and veg as a primary energy source too. Dairy products are also a good source of carbohydrate.
Give up carbs?
Over the years I have heard so many people say “I am giving up carbs”. When I question them about this they provide a variety of reasons but the main one is they have heard it helps with weight loss. Quite often they don’t give up carbs completely but the discretionary foods that are made from refined carbohydrates such as muffins, cakes and biscuits etc. and of course giving up these foods will help people to lose weight as well as being beneficial for overall health.
We also see many people in our clinic that “give up carbs” because they have been told by a friend or think they are gluten intolerant. So, they give up carbs and feel a little better but their symptoms don’t fully improve. After struggling for 1-2 years, they come to see us only to be told that they don’t have Coeliac Disease but Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is something that is common throughout Australia. If you think you are getting negative symptoms from carb foods (or any food for that matter), see an Accredited Practising Dietitian sooner rather than later and avoid all that suffering!
The Australian diet is carb heavy which means that we are eating too much of the same type of carbohydrate and often this is the white, refined bread, grains and cereal products. We have cereal or toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner and only 4% of us are getting the recommended serves of fruit and veg in each day. So, when people give up carbs, it often means that they stop eating the refined breads and cereals, cakes and muffins which is what helps them lose weight and feel better (not to mention the positive effect it has on their blood sugar levels!) Mix up your carb intake and see what happens rather than giving up carbs.
It is important for good health to have food variety. It is also important for good gut health. Carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, breads and cereals also provide us with lots of fibre and the latest research is showing that fibre variety is as important as nutritional variety. It helps to promote healthy colonies of good bacteria in our gut and refined breads and cereals have negligible amounts of fibre.
A great way to see if you are getting variety in your diet is to keep a food diary for three days. Write down what you eat such as white toast with butter and vegemite for breakfast, muffin and coffee for morning tea, ham and cheese sandwich on white bread for lunch, spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. It’s a great way to see where you can improve your diet and to also make yourself accountable.
You can see that the above sample intake is carb heavy and consists of refined wheat products that offer little food and fibre variety, not to mention limited nutritional benefit. You can see it’s not necessarily the carbs that would be making a person feel less than optimal, but the lack of variety in their carbs; the refined breads, cereals and grains and lack of fruit and veg.
Making a few changes by swapping the white bread for multi grain, adding some avocado on your toast, swapping the coffee and muffin for water and fruit, swapping your sandwich for a salad and throwing some extra veggies in your spag bog will go a long way to improving your health and your body and energy levels will reap the benefits in both the short and long term.
For our Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Sesame and Lime Dressing recipe, check out the recipes page on our web site. It’s high in fibre, protein and good quality fats!
Written by Lisa Stegena, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.