Thanks to a number of high-profile diet fads, most of us believe that carbohydrates make you fat. We have been brainwashed into believing that we can eat fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy in abundance but carbs are public enemy number one. This week Nikki Edwards reveals that, if chosen carefully, carbohydrates can actually deliver a number of health benefits and also help you reach and maintain your optimum weight.
A “zero carb diet” is not only difficult to achieve, it’s unsustainable and unhealthy.
We all need carbohydrates for energy and many of us who have attempted to lose weight by starving ourselves of this important food group will vouch for the fact that deprivation often ends in side effects to include stomach cramps, nausea, headaches, dizziness, tiredness and irritability.
Now my programme is top-heavy on protein and I stand by that. But I also think it is vital to introduce some carefully chosen carbs which can keep mealtimes well balanced.
Choosing your carbs
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our body- they are the energy that gets used first and it is recommended that about 45-60% of our energy intake should come from carbohydrates.
But before you rush to the supermarket and stock up on pasta, bread and chocolate cake, we need to get a few things straight.
There are a number of different carbohydrates and more foods fall under the carb umbrella than most of us realise.
Carbs can be divided into three groups: sugar, starches, and fibre.
Sugar is found naturally in some foods, including fruit, fruit juices, milk and vegetables. Other forms of sugar are added to processed foods and drinks such as sweets, chocolates, biscuits and soft drinks.
Natural sugar represents the simplest form of carbohydrates, and it may be obtained in three forms: lactose, fructose, and sucrose.
Starches are those sugar units bonded together, and naturally occurring starch can be found in foods that come from plants – rice, beans, peas, and other grains.
Starchy foods provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
Fibre is also made of bonded sugar, and is found only in foods that come from plants. It occurs in vegetables, whole grains, peas and dry beans, bran, soya beans, and more.
Fibre helps with digestion and may help lower cholesterol.
You should avoid all refined carbohydrates – those found in sugar, white breads, pasta, crackers, and cereals – and carbs with added sugar such as weets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks.
These are usually high in sugar and calories, which can contribute to weight gain and provide few other nutrients.
Refined carbohydrates are “bad” because they have what is called a high glycemic index, meaning that these foods cause a sudden and sharp increase in blood sugar. If this blood sugar is not used by the body, it is stored as fat.
Good carbs are found in fruit, vegetables, pulses and starchy foods (especially wholegrain varieties) which provide a wider range of nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) that are good for you.
Some of my favourite good carbs are bananas, oats, beans and lentils, wholewheat pasta, barley, brown rice, peas, rye bread, quinoa, bulgar and polenta.
Here are five reasons why carbs are great:
- Carbs make you happy. I’m sure you have all heard of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin before? Well it is believed that the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods can increase the amount of serotonin produced by the brain. Studies have found that people who follow a very low carbohydrate diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety, and anger than those assigned to a low-fat, high-carb diet that focused on low-fat dairy, whole grains, fruit, and beans.
- Carbs give you energy. In fact they are your body’s main source of energy. There’s a reason runners “carbo-load” before their big races, and it’s not only because carbs taste good. It’s because they can tell how the complex carbs affect their performance.
- Carbs help you maintain your weight. Many people blame weight gain on carbs, but carbs have been proven to help dieters maintain their weight as long as they are picking the right carbs to eat and are eating them in moderation. The great thing about carbs is that they fill you up and keep you feeling full.
- Carbs help prevent diseases. This is because carb-rich foods are packed with fibre, and fibrous foods help your body fight certain diseases, help with your indigestion and keep cholesterol and heart diseases under control.
- Carbs are good for digestion. Not only do they help you digest food, but they speed up the whole process. The dietary fibre found in carbohydrates helps digestion because it moves food quickly through intestines, which helps prevent digestive disorders such as constipation.
When to eat carbs
Not only is it important for you to pick the right carbs to eat, but it’s also vital to eat them at the right time.
For example, if you’re on a weight-loss mission, you can have your carbs for breakfast but not later in the day.
This is because they will give you an energy boost first thing in the morning and make you feel fuller for longer, reducing your desire to snack. You will have enough time to burn them off through the rest of the day.
Science backs this up.
After all, our bodies’ circadian rhythm, or “internal time-keeping system,” plays a huge role in metabolic and hormonal changes over 24-hour cycles and research suggests carbs are burned more efficiently in the morning than at night.
Another important time to eat carbs is after a work out. This is because they help replace lost fuel in muscles.
Carbs, fat and protein all provide energy, but exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel. A diet low in carbs can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue and delayed recovery. Fat and protein are harder to turn into energy than carbs, which means you may feel low on energy during your exercise session.
Choosing sensible carbs – such as a banana – after an intense exercise session is a great way to refuel your energy stores while avoiding fat storage.
The golden rules of eating carbs
To make life a little easier, here are my top tips for including carbs in your diet:
- Choose wisely. Stick to the good carbs such as bananas, oats, beans and lentils, potatoes, wholewheat pasta, barley, brown rice, peas, rye and polenta.
- Eat carbs in the morning or after exercise. Eating carbs late at night will not help you lose weight and could make you feel sluggish instead of full of energy.
- Balance your plate. Carbs should take up no more than a quarter of your plate. The rest should be filled with lean meats, low-fat dairy products, good fats and fruit and veggies.
- Be portion savvy. Just because you are eating carbs does not mean you should go overboard. One banana, 125g cannellini beans or one small baked potato is a correct portion size.
The final word
All good healthy eating plans should be well-balanced and include all the major food groups.
Remember to stick to eating high-protein meals at lunch and supper time but enjoy a carb treat for breakfast and reward yourself with one after exercise.
Recipe of the week – Blueberry & Banana breakfast muffins
(Makes approx 10 small or 6 large)
- 1 tbsp (25ml) Rapeseed Oil
- 50g Deluxe Nutrition Ultra Fine Scottish Oats
- 25g Corn Flour
- 30g Deluxe Nutrition 100% Protein Banana Flavour
- 2 eggs
- 1 level tsp baking powder
- 50g Frozen Blueberries
- 1 ripe banana, mashed
- (25g of Canderel Stevia can be added for the sweeter toothed person)
Preheat your oven to 180C. Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, add the eggs and rapeseed oil. Mix together with electric whisk and add splash of milk if too thick. Stir in blueberries and banana.
Divide equally into silicone muffin cases (this mixture tends to stick to paper muffin cases) and place in oven for approx 12-15 mins.
Don’t expect them to raise in the same shape as muffins normally do, I have had some interesting shapes!
Leave to cool and enjoy with no guilt!
Exercise of the week – Power plate
Power-Plate is a machine that gives the body’s muscles a high-speed workout by using vibrations to stimulate them to contract and relax. They generally contract once or twice a second, but by standing on the Power-Plate, its vibrations cause an automatic reflex muscle contraction of 30-50 a second.
Power-Plate is a great time-saver due to the effectiveness of training and the fact that many muscle groups are activated at the same time. It’s claimed that 10 minutes on the Power-Plate will have the same results as 60 minutes of conventional strenuous training.
Famous fans include Madonna, Jonathon Ross and Kylie Minogue.
Where you can do it: Abs Toning, Sandy Lane, Martlesham, Woodbridge. A 30 minute session will cost you £7.50. For more information visit www.abs-toning.co.uk