What are Carbs? and why are we trying to avoid them?

There are a lot of different diets around at the moment, making it very confusing to know which one to follow. Carbohydrates are having a bad rap in many of them. There is much confusion about eating carbs and what they are, so I’d like to clarify a little about carbs.

Carbohydrates are one of the macronutrients required for life. The other macronutrients are Proteins and Fats. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for our body and fuel for our brain. The brain is unable to use other macronutrients for fuel or to function properly without glucose, derived from carbs.

The breakdown for the correct amounts of macronutrients required by our bodies every day is: Protein, 10-35% of total kilojoule intake, Carbs, 45-65% of daily energy intake and Fats, 15-25% of daily intake (with only 10% of that amount coming from saturated fats). So why is everyone telling us not to eat carbs when more than half of our daily intake needs to come from them?

This is because when many people think of carbs they naturally think of white bread, cakes, biscuits, cereals etc. And if this is the type of carbs you are eating, then yes they definitely need to be restricted, reduced or better still eliminated from our diet. Our Western diet is crammed full of highly refined carbs that are full of salt, fat and sugar and it is very light on whole grains, vegetables and fruits and legumes

So what carbs should we be eating?

Vegetables (lots of them) and fruit (plenty of them too) plus wholegrains (unprocessed grains like brown rice, wholemeal bread, quinoa, unhulled barley, oats etc.), and legumes/peas (red kidney beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas etc.)

What carbs should we be avoiding?

Highly processed ones, like white bread, white rice, cakes, pastries, lollies and sugary drinks.

Why should we be eating the good carbs?

  • They are low in kilojoules (and can help reduce or maintain our weight by helping us to feel fuller for longer)
  • Are naturally high in nutrients
  • Are naturally high in fibre which in turn
    • Lowers our blood sugar and insulin levels
    • Lowers LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
    • Increases the feeling of fullness after a meal
    • Prevents constipation
    • May prevents some cancers
  • Low in salt, saturated fats and cholesterol/ trans fats

Why should we avoid bad carbs?

  • They are high in kilojoules
  • Low in nutrients
  • High in refined sugars, salt and fats especially saturated fats
  • High in refined grains
  • Low in fibre

So, what am I trying to say? Don’t be scared of carbs, embrace them, but choose wisely!

See the good carb vs bad carb poster here:

Good carbs vs bad carbs poster