Blog, Health & Wellbeing, Nutrition

Are Carbs The Enemy?

“Are carbohydrates bad..can they make me fat?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked. We all know that carbohydrates have had a bad reputation over the past couple of decades; associated with making you fat, bloated and sluggish. With so much conflicting information the answer is not as simple as we would expect it to be. Before we answer this question we need to look at what Carbohydrates are. 

Carbohydrates are a family of nutrients that provide the body with its primary energy source. Your body uses carbohydrate based foods to make glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar that is stored away by our body to use as energy. Carbohydrates are grouped into two categories:

(1) Complex Carbohydrates or ‘good carbohydrates’

(2) Simple Carbohydrates or ‘bad carbohydrates’

Bad Carbohydrates:
Bad Carbohydrates are simple carbohydrates that are broken down by the body quickly to provide an adequate source of nutrients, vitamins and energy. Bad carbohydrates are foods that are composed of refined or processed flours and often include added sugars, examples include soft drinks, most cakes, biscuits/ cookies or chips, white bread, white rice, table sugar, fructose or fruit sugar or corn syrup and alcohol. Eating a diet that is full of bad carbohydrates can lead to a host of medical problems. These include; weight gain, an increase in the risk of diabetes and an increased chance of heart disease.

Good Carbohydrates:
Good Carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that are broken down by the body at a slower rate then simple carbohydrates. These carbohydrates typically are high in fibre, which takes the body longer to break down and help stabilize blood sugar levels. The best sources of good carbohydrates include fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, sweet potatoes, whole grain cereals, whole wheat breads, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, beans and lentils. All of these foods provide the body with energy, vitamins, fibre, minerals and phytonutrients.

Note: If you have been following a low carbohydrate diet long term (such as the Atkins Diet) or you decide to suddenly cut carbs out of your diet you may experience a variety of temporary health effects including; weakness, fatigue, headaches, bad breath, skin rash, constipation or diarrhea.

Here are some of my tips to banish those ‘bad’ Carb cravings:

✦ Avoid high Glycemic Index foods such as processed foods which include; breads, cakes, white rice, potatoes etc. These foods convert quickly to sugar in the blood, leaving you craving more!

✦ Avoid sugar and fat. These are a lethal combination together and make us want to eat more and can increase cravings.

✦ Avoid sugars such as; syrup, artificial sweeteners and honey.

✦ Eat protein with each meal: Protein will keep you satisfied for longer and will also lower insulin response. Insulin maintains the body’s blood sugar within a healthy range.

✦ Eat breakfast: This can help towards reducing cravings or feeling hungry keeping blood sugar levels balanced. Consume a protein based breakfast i.e. eggs, yogurt, and nuts.

✦ Eat lots of vegetables: Low starch vegetables include; broccoli, brussel spouts, cucumber, cabbage, kale, garlic, leafy greens, onions, parsley, peppers, water crest, spinach.

✦ Always plan and prepare your meals. Do not allow yourself to get over hungry.

✦ Eat well at meal times: Chew your food well and slow down your eating. 

✦ Include Coconut oil in your meals. Coconut oil is good for energy and helps to lower insulin spikes. It is a very versatile oil. Also include fish oils in your diet i.e. Omega 3

✦ Cinnamon is an excellent aromatic spice, it helps to lower blood sugar levels and can make a tasty alternative to sugar.

✦ Get enough Sleep : Sleep is very important. During sleep our hormones are fat burning and muscle building. Tiredness can also lead to cravings of ‘bad’ Carb foods.

✦ Try herbal teas: Teas such as; Tulsi Tea, Liquorice tea, Camomile tea which can help you relax.

✦ Reduce stress: Make time for relaxation and rest to reduce and manage stress, try mediation, yoga or go for a walk. Include something that helps you to unwind. Make essential lifestyle changes to help you reduce the stress in your life.

✦ Exercise: Try interval training short bursts of high intervals. Include resistance training in your workout routine. Avoid long cardio sessions, these can encourage more cravings. 

Don’t be a Carbophobic!
As mentioned above eat ‘good’ carbohydrates. Foods that contain fibre are more filling, have a low Glycemic Index which will keep blood sugar levels stable. These are also essential for good bowel health and reduce total cholesterol levels. Choose whole, fresh and unprocessed foods. These foods will always be the best choice.

Carbohydrates are not bad for you, eating the right type of carbohydrate, which are not processing and are high in fibre are actually good for you. So the ‘type’ of Carbohydrate you eat is important. It’s all about balance and ensuring that your diet is made up of healthy carbohydrates, rather than highly manufactured and processed ones.

Thanks for reading!

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Dal Dhaliwal is a health and wellbeing expert, educator and special advisor on physical activity. She is also an active professional speaker and TV/ radio presenter. Dal helps entrepreneurs and professionals with their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. She consults and presents for some of the UK's leading businesses and organisations within the wellness, sports and business arena.