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.