You cannot enter a nutritional discussion these days without hotly debating the subject of "carbs". Are they ‘good’ or are they ‘bad’, what time of the day should you consume them or what type should you have? The questions are endless. The reason for this is mainly due to the increased popularity of low or no carb diets over the last few decades, diets such as Aktins, Dukan, Paleo and now Keto. So this month I will shed some light on whether this controversial macronutrient should be consumed or not.
In The Beginning
The first recorded low carb diet was actually back in 1863 from a formerly obese undertaker named William Banting. His physician Doctor William Harvey had only studied the context of carbohydrates for controlling diabetes (again, another subject which we perceive to be new) but convinced Banting to try it. Lo and behold it worked! So much so that the pamphlet he produced about it is still referred to today in relation to a low carbohydrate style diet.
The most common forms of carbohydrate are sugars, fibres and starches. It is important to realise that each of these forms react differently in the body yet we bundle them all into the same category, which is the first mistake. When I talk to my clients, I try to make it clear when I am referring to starch in particular as this is the most commonly thought of version of carbohydrates and the one which people tend to over-eat (and therefore cause fat gain).
Carbohydrates in all forms are an important part of a healthy diet as they provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. It is also important to remember the second half of the word, carbo ‘hydrate’. They hydrate the cells enabling them to communicate with other cells in the body allowing for better overall performance of all our systems.
Good or Bad
There is an old saying, ‘The dose maketh the poison”. I currently believe that there are no good or bad foods, only good or bad choices we make regarding food. Over consuming any food group can potentially lead to gaining body fat and causing ill health. I have both reduced and increased carbohydrates in my client’s diets and seen reductions in body fat and improvements in daily energy and quality of sleep.
Carbohydrates are a macro nutrient we tend to over eat and therefore consuming more calories than we are burning which causes the gain in body fat, not the carbohydrates themselves. The same rule applies to fat; healthy or not, if we over consume it, we will most likely gain weight. It is also true for protein, except over consuming it is incredibly hard to do.
Take Home Points
One way to think about carbohydrates (in terms of starch and sugar), is that we need to ‘earn’ them. The harder we work, the more we can consume and our body will use them more productively. However, this does not just mean a ‘hard’ gym session means you can swallow that chocolate brownie; earning them may mean that you need to limit them for a prolonged period of time (weeks or months) before you can really start to consume them in a higher quantity.
As always if you are unsure of your nutrition, hire the help of a professional and start your journey pointing in the right direction.