We wrote about all the hate that fat has received over the past 50 years or so (here) but now low-carb is the new low-fat…Well we’ve gotta blame something now haven’t we?! It seems it’s the turn of the carbohydrates with carbs in general being demonised and many people going on ‘low-carb’ diets, not really knowing much about it. Here are a few thoughts on carbs that might get you re-thinking that diet…
- What is carbohydrate? Well, in simple terms, carbohydrate refers to ‘sugar’ but this broad group refers to 4 different categories of sugar, each category containing different structures that impact on our body in different ways. We have use for them all!
- Are there good and bad carbs? We don’t love labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (that’s a whole other blog post!), but put simply, all foods play different roles and knowing what those are helps us to decide how often we might eat them. Generally people aren’t differentiating between single ingredient sources of carbohydrates that are filled with the essential nutrients we require and more refined/processed sources that are nutrient poor but great for enjoyment, maybe our food budget, ease, celebration and mental health. Most of our health problems don’t come down to potatoes, fruit, veggies and some of what you fancy every now and again, but rather the lack of variety in our diets and not firstly meeting our nutritional needs, as well as lack of sleep, stress, inappropriate exercise and poor gut health! That’s why we’re choosing lots of those single ingredient sources lots of the time – things like potatoes, root veg/vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, grains – and enjoying the less nutrient dense stuff in between.
- Going too low-carb has the potential to present a whole host of other health problems further down the line, even if it seems to work at first. Whole food carbs are a great way to get fibre and vitamins, provide food for your gut bacteria (hello healthy bowels), ,replenish muscle glycogen after a workout and a heck load of other functions in your body!
- Low carb diets HAVE been shown to be useful in certain circumstances. Research is showing that a ketogenic diet (low in carbohydrate but high in fat) can be a good therapeutic tool for things like epilepsy, dementia and other neurological disorders and sometimes in diabetes (although not essential!).
- We’re all unique and that means that how much carbohydrate we need will be different. Someone exercising a lot may require more to fuel their workouts, some people just have a preference for carbs and that’s totally ok! A general recommendation for most healthy people is to eat carbohydrates from single ingredient sources and see how you feel. Feeling good? GREAT! Keep going! If not? You might need more or less so have a play and see. You could try eating a bigger portion of carbohydrate (alongside fat and protein) at each meal, or see what it feels like to save most of your carbohydrate for a certain time of day and have smaller amounts during the rest of the day. Working 1-1 with someone for a more individualised approach can be useful if you feel like you’re a bit stuck.
A few top tips:
- Don’t let yourself feel deprived – things like adding loads of garlic, herbs and spices to potatoes and a bit of butter are so easy and tasty.
- Don’t just take a food out in a bid to improve your health – nutrition is about what we can add to our lives so get creative, try new herbs and spices, sauces, bake some things (we’ve got loads of recipes!) or find creative ways to get some extra fruit in for dessert with your favourite chocolate 😉 Greek yogurt and berries is a summer favourite, for winter a nice crumble with plenty of variety of fruits is delish!
- Letting starch (like rice or potatoes) cool after cooking provides a great source of resistant starch, helping to feed the bacteria in your gut. These are a great addition to any cold salad too.
- Banana and peanut butter – need we say more?! Fruit and nut butters are a great handy way to get some fibre, fat and protein and makes for a delicious snack. Also works as great post workout fuel if that’s your thing.
- If you’re going to the effort of cooking, remember to bulk make things! Roasted sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, beets and white potato keep just fine in the fridge as does rice which you can zap for three minutes in the microwave (really!) if you want it hot or add cold to salad.