It seems in perusing the nutrition world these days that carbs have become "the demon de jour". When I was a young yo-yo dieter, it was fat that was the devil and more recently it's become sugar. But why stop there? It seems most carbs are now on the do-not-eat list when it comes to health and have been vilified for everything from heart disease to diabetes. But do we really need to go that far?
Firstly, let's define carbs. Are they just potatoes, bread and rice?
Carbs are found in so many foods including dairy products, fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds and of course, sugary foods and sweets. They are made up of three components: fibre, starch, and sugar.
Fibre and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb. When it comes to carbs, they all have a place in our diets but nutrient-wise, the more complex the carb is, the more beneficial it is for the health and functioning of our bodies.
The total amount of carbohydrates we need varies from person to person and as with all nutrition, it really needs to be an individualised approach, rather than fearing them altogether. Here's why:
1. Carbs have been a healthy part of human diets for centuries.
Whole and fermented grains, root vegetables and legumes are superfoods in themselves and have been consumed in various quantities throughout history. Even my own indigenous ancestors ate wild rice, and kumara was brought to New Zealand from Polynesia by the Maori people and has been enjoyed since.
"The Blue Zones" - an area studied where populations live measurably longer than other populations - all eat plenty of carbs. In some cases, 69% or more of their diet is carb-based. If it works for them, it works for me!
Bread and rice and other carbohydrate rich foods have been a focal point of so many cultural foods and experiences. By removing them, we're removing a staple element of so many peoples' rich and vibrant cultures and the experience that goes along with them.
2. Goodbye carbs = goodbye fibre (and a whole lot of other good stuff!)
Fibre is an important part of a healthy diet. Guess where's the easiest place to find it carbs! Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are all rich in fibre and most contain some level of carbohydrates.
Dietary fibre is important for our digestive health and regular bowel movements. Fibre also helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and can assist in preventing some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer.
3. Carbs are good for the gut.
Gut health is all the rage these days and fibre-rich carbohydrates are influential when it comes to good digestive health. A diet with the appropriate amounts of fibre will feed and make beneficial gut bacteria thrive and the more of these little guys we have, the better. A healthy digestive system can improve our immune system, our mood and has a whole host of other benefits.
4. Cutting them out can lead to a disordered relationship with food.
Have you ever noticed that often our cravings revolve around so called 'forbidden foods'? Do you find yourself restricting, only to binge once you get a taste of the restricted food on your lips? Restriction leads to binging. There's a reason why we don't binge on broccoli! If you love and enjoy carbs, cutting them out completely can only lead to further problems down the road. All foods can fit in a healthy balanced diet.
5. Carbs make us happy.
We don't need scientific evidence to prove this. There's nothing like a freshly baked loaf of bread or having real pasta with our Bolognese rather than zucchini. I'm sorry, but as much as I love cauliflower, it is just not the same as wood fire baked pizza. Get that shit out of my pizza crust.
Nutrition is not black and white or good or bad. Let's try to stop looking at foods in terms of macros but instead, thinking of them as a whole. Omit carbs and you're also omitting a cultural staple full of fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and a whole lot of happiness for all of us who have grown to love them.
Whole food sources of carbs add to a healthy diet not take away from one and simple carbs can provide us with much-needed energy, comfort, and connection. Empowered Eating teaches us how to listen to our bodies and find the amount of carbs that works best for you and your health goals. Because the bottom line is:
· Some people feel great with more carbs overall,
· Some people feel great with fewer carbs,
· Some people feel better when carbs are paired with fibre or protein
Work out your carbohydrate ‘sweet spot’ and if you need a hand with that, get in touch.
Have fun, play around and find out what works best for you. We are all miracles made up of particles and each of us is going to experience different variations of carb intake differently. You do you (Cue Bon Jovi's “It’s my life”).
If you'd like more support around finding out what's best for your unique body, check out The Empowered Eating Programme which is designed to do just that!