The diet conscious will be aware but it’s useful to have a timely reminder! – particularly as we move into winter and our desire for carbs increases.
A few decades ago, fat was Diet Enemy Number 1. That’s why we still have ‘low fat’ versions of things on supermarket shelves. Now, it seems carbs are the enemy. We’re constantly encouraged to cut carbs, go for sugar-free options, and replace starch with fibre.
Why are carbs considered so bad? Well, a lot of the debate revolves around the ‘addictive’ qualities of sugar (carbs are, basically sugars), and the high-calorie payload of carbs compared to other forms of energy. The body uses carbs as its go-to fuel. It converts carbohydrates into glycogen, which – if not used – is then stored in fat cells. Modern, processed sources of carbohydrate pack a huge calorific punch – way more than we need for our more sedentary modern lifestyles.
In addition, processed carbs like the high-fructose corn-syrup widely available in the USA, and the sugary chemicals which go into our fizzy drinks, are believed by many to cause health issues above and beyond the (already deeply concerning) consequences of obesity, Carbs raise our blood sugars, pack pounds onto our frames – and they’re also pretty much everywhere. We’re obsessed with them. So much so, that these days in debates about carbs the term ‘addiction’ is often used.
However, while it may be true that HFCS and the like aren’t the most natural or healthy sources of carbohydrate, it is an oversimplification of complex nutritional science to state that carbs are ‘the enemy’. Phew.
Carbs are essential
A good, healthy diet should contain a balance of food groups. Our bodies are designed to ingest and utilise carbohydrates. Depriving our bodies of carbohydrates may cause us to lose weight, but it’s not a particularly natural, sustainable, or even healthy way of living. Replacing calories from carbs with calories from fats and proteins raises the risk of developing heart problems. Also, apart from anything else, limiting carbs also limits what you can eat – and a super-restricted diet is problematic from a nutritional point of view.
Picking the right foods
So how can you get a healthy mix of carbs which doesn’t spike your blood sugars, and doesn’t restrict you too much? It’s all about picking sensibly. Carbs wrapped up with plenty of fibre take longer for the body to digest, ensuring a slow, steady release of energy into the bloodstream. Complex carbohydrates, like those found in fruit, vegetables, wheats, and so on will all do this for you.
What to avoid
Simple carbs, like your basic table sugar, and sugary snacks, aren’t locked up in fibre, so they shoot straight into your bloodstream, causing those body-baffling peaks and troughs in your blood sugars. So the dietary carbs advice basically boils down to the same, boring, sensible old message: swap the sweeties for fruit, veg, and wholegrains.
While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that carbs are, first and foremost, your body’s source of energy. So, eat them when you need to be awake and active. Loading up on carbs just before bed is not the best use of your dietary time!