[As featured in Hip and Healthy]
Cutting carbohydrates from meals was once hailed as the answer to fast track weight loss. The Atkins, Dukan and South Beach diets all eschewed bread, potatoes and pasta in favour of loading up on protein sources like bacon and eggs. And so began a widespread misconception that carbs make you fat (and some pretty chronic cases of halitosis).
Now though, it seems carbohydrates are creeping back into our lives, not to mention our social media feeds. The account @girlswithgluten is a carbohydrate-worshipping poke in the eye to the ubiquitous green smoothies and kale salads that dominate Instagram. It features women the world over wolfing down pizzas and burgers; what’s more, they’re doing it with big, juicy, lip-smacking grins. Celebrities are getting in on the action too, with everyone from Millie Mackintosh to the uber trainer Kayla Itsines, championing the importance of a balanced diet that doesn’t omit entire food groups.
“The view that all carbohydrates should be cut from someone’s diet is quite simply wrong,” says registered nutritionist, Rhiannon Lambert of Rhitrition.com. “However, there is a case for reducing refined carbs – the type that contain little nutrition for the body – as they’re purely a fast release of glucose and energy. These are typically white bread, pasta, white rice and processed food such as biscuits and crisps.” Rhiannon suggests opting for ‘complex carbohydrates’ as they release energy slowly and are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. “The media have messed with people’s heads, so I tell my clients to think about ‘grains’ rather than ‘carbs’, as it’s far simpler to understand.”
The truth about carbs:
Not all carbs are created equal
Carbs are an important source of fuel for your brain and body. Good (complex/starchy) carbs are: wholegrain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, wholegrain bread, oats and bulgur.
Carbs make you happy
Our brains use the glucose from carbohydrates as fuel. If you’ve ever been on a strict diet regime such as the Atkins, you’ll know that it can be hard to concentrate and you often experience severe drops in mood. That’s because carbs play an important role in transporting tryptophan (key to creating serotonin, your happy hormone) to the brain.
They keep you balanced
Carbohydrates – especially complex or starchy ones such as sweet potatoes – are a good source of energy and fibre, which help your digestive system stay healthy and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Better still, they contain all sorts of micronutrients that help to release the energy from food.
Carbs can actually help you lose weight
Good carbs keep you fuller for longer, meaning you’re not tempted to snack all day. While it’s true high-protein diets can suppress hunger, there are concerns that in the long term this could lead to kidney problems and a deficiency in some key nutrients.
Cutting carbs is unsustainable
Although some people experience initial weight loss from a no-carbohydrate diet, most can’t maintain it. “Fad diets don’t work”, says Rhiannon. “A clean, balanced diet is the yardstick we should all be aiming for. If you want to lose weight, look at portion control, a diet that’s tailored to your unique needs and upping your exercise so that you’re burning off more calories that you eat. It’s that simple.”
Rhiannon is running a ‘Why Don’t Diets Work’ workshop at The Food Doctor Clinic in Harley Street on October 21st. Go to http://rhitrition.com/events/ for details and tickets or follow her @rhitrition on Instagram and twitter.