Should you avoid them?
Carbohydrates are shunned by many diet programs because of the assumption that by not eating — or severely reducing — carbs, you will shed kilos.
But nutrition experts say the poor reputation is undeserved and warn that eliminating carbs from your diet is not only virtually impossible, it inhibits the body’s ability to function at its best.
Australian Dietitians Association spokesman and accredited practising dietitian Alan Barclay says carbs have been the subject of bad press for way too long — and the bad rap only continues as each new fad diet surfaces.
“Carbs as a food group have really been on the nose now since the 1970s when we saw a surge in the popularity of diets like the Atkins diet, ” Mr Barclay says.
“However, it’s foolish to blame an essential nutrient for the world’s current obesity problems.
“The body requires carbohydrates, fats and protein to function optimally and cannot do the job it is supposed to do if you cut one of them completely from your diet, ” he says.
He says contrary to popular belief, nutritional studies show that Australians actually eat fewer carbohydrates than they ever have, partly, he believes because of their poor reputation.
“Marketing enthusiasts would have us believe that low fat, low carb is what we should be aiming for, however, more often than not these sorts of foods are often highly processed with all sorts of additives and will only make you put on weight, ” Mr Barclay says.
Diabetes WA’s education services manager Deborah Schofield says it is a mistake to classify all carbohydrates as the enemy and eliminate them from your diet in an attempt to lose weight.
“Classifying cream cake and quinoa as the same is obviously ridiculous but is basically what you are doing by saying you are cutting out all carbs from your diet, ” Ms Schofield says.
“There are healthy and unhealthy carbs, and once you know which is which, then you can make educated decisions about restricting or eliminating the ones that are bad for you and leaving the ones that are essential for optimal body and brain function.”
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Ms Schofield explains they are classified in two groups: The “bad” carbs are known as simple carbohydrates, while “good” carbs are called complex; based on the time it takes the body to break them down and use them as fuel. Highly refined carbohydrates fall under the banner of simple carbs.
Ms Schofield says there is no hard-and- fast rule as to how many carbohydrates each person should consume to ensure they function at their best.
“The amount will vary, depending on the individual and their needs and this will depend on things like age, gender and level of physical fitness and activity, ” she says.
She says most health professionals would never advocate elimin-ating an entire food group from your diet in order to achieve weight loss.
Instead, be selective about your carbohydrate intake and watch your portion sizes.
“If you are cutting out all carbohydrates from your diet, which is virtually impossible, then you’re cutting out all fruit and veg-etables, ” she says.
“These and other good carbohydrates are nutrient-rich and full of essential vitamins and minerals and will help fight against diseases and improve long-term health.”
Remede’s resident food coach, Kate Barnes, says while carbohydrates are fundamental nutrients required for health and wellbeing, they are often eaten in a processed and refined form in quantities that far exceed nutrient requirements.
“Generally a diet too heavily ‘weighted’ to one nutrient or another can lead to weight gain and illness, ” Ms Barnes says.
“I feel that the double whammy effect of our modern sedentary lifestyles combined with a highly processed and refined high-carb diet is a major problem.”
NAUGHTY AND NICE CARBS
- Fresh fruit, ideally those with a low glycaemic index such as apricots, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Wholegrains and foods made from wholegrains, including some breads and cereals
- Dairy products that are not sweetened by sugar
- Soft drinks and juices
- Biscuits, cakes and chips
- White rice, bread and pastas
- Pastries and desserts
© The West Australian
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