Carbohydrates have undoubtedly received some bad press over the years. The media’s efforts to paint this macronutrient in a bad light has unfortunately succeeded and their tendency to sensationalise or oversimplify all the nuanced elements of a healthy diet have left us confused about what’s healthy and what isn’t.
With the recent resurgence of the ‘keto’ diet – restricting carb intake to 20-50 grams a day (an apple has 25g), I think it’s time to bust some myths about carbs and how to make smarter choices.
Here are 5 common misconceptions people have about carbohydrates and why they’re wrong.
1. All carbs are bad for you
As with any food group, there is a spectrum of which are more or less nutritionally beneficial for your body. For example, pasta and quinoa fall under the same macronutrient, carbohydrate but they offer vastly different vitamins and cause very different reactions in the body. In this way, quinoa can be considered a healthier carbohydrate than pasta, or as I like to call it, a ‘smarter choice’.
2. Carbs don’t benefit my body as much as protein or fat
The right kind of carbohydrates can be a fantastic source of vitamins and fibre which aid your digestion and help you feel full. Prebiotic fibre and resistant starch also feeds the bacteria in your gut which, as more and more studies are beginning to show, plays a fundamental part in good mental and physical wellbeing. Gut health can impact the body in so many different ways including how readily your body lets go of excess fat.
3. Carbs don’t affect me that much
As we mentioned, carbohydrates exist on a spectrum and some are healthier or more nutritionally beneficial than others. The ones that sit towards the healthy end of the spectrum are often called complex carbs; these include foods like starchy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and beans. The foods that sit towards the less healthy side are those with a higher glycemic index (GI) such as white bread or pasta.
The higher the GI of the food (often processed food), the more your blood sugar levels will rise, causing a stress reaction in your body which can trigger fat storage. As these high GI foods don’t exist in nature, the body often produces too much insulin as a result of the excess sugar which causes a subsequent crash in blood sugar triggering a dip in energy levels, mood swings and cravings for more sugar!
This process is commonly referred to as the blood sugar roller-coaster and can be detrimental to your health and your ability to lose excess fat.
4. Carbs are only good for you in small portions
Too often I see people being incredibly restrictive of carbohydrates because they think all carbs are bad or don’t know the right portion size for their diet and lifestyle goals. You can work out whether a food is a smart carb option or not using this simple equation; Divide the total grams of carbohydrate of a given food by the total grams of fibre. If you get a number that’s less than 10 then you have a smart carb choice in front of you!
If you are happy with your choice of carbohydrates then you can also look at portion sizes. These vary depending on your personal diet and lifestyle goals and the amount of exercise you’re doing. I recommend using a third of your plate for carbohydrates if you are looking to maintain your current weight or a quarter if you are trying to lose weight. Another good technique is to use your hand to measure your carbohydrate intake – a cupped handful is usually an accurate and consistent measure to achieve weight loss.
5. Finding healthy carbs is hard
Making changes to your diet can seem hard and it’s easy to slip back into your routine, but making simple swaps is a great way to keep the meals you love while using more nutritionally beneficial foods.
Need some inspiration? You can download my food swaps for smarter carb choices here!