Last week, the Victorian Women’s Trust launches its new podcast series, The Trap, written and…
Let me introduce you to the most confusing topic in nutrition: Carbohydrates.
To illustrate this, here are some untrue statements (and my counter statements) about carbs taken from various places on the internet:
You must cut out bread to lose weight. My clients lose weight while eating bread.
Grains are bad for your brain. We’ve been eating grains for over 10,000 years.
Potatoes will make you fat. I eat potatoes and I’m not fat.
Your body can’t digest wheat. I eat wheat and I have no problems pooping.
Sugar is toxic. Your blood has a sugar (glucose) concentration of 4-6 mmol/L. If it was toxic, you’d be dead.
Don’t eat pasta after 4 pm. I ate pasta after 4 pm the other day. Nothing bad happened.
There are plenty of others. Pointless black and white statements with absolutely no evidence to substantiate them. And they often leave people confused. Very confused. It then gets even more confusing when certain individuals on the internet use their personal experience (anecdotal evidence) to make blanket statements about food and nutrition.
If I used anecdotal evidence about carbohydrates it would be something like this:
“I eat carb rich foods everyday. I have great energy levels. I don’t get bloated. I poop everyday. It’s very satisfying (the pooping). I’m a healthy weight. My brain functions fine (most of the time).”
Anyway, you didn’t click on this title to hear me talk about my brain or daily bowel movements. You came to this article to find out what you’re doing wrong when it comes to eating carbs. Well, here’s the down-low:
You’re comparing yourself to others
The main reason I believe that the topic of carbohydrates is so confusing is because everyone actually has different carbohydrate needs. Your carbohydrate needs depend on your age, weight, height, activity levels, metabolic health, your risk of chronic disease, your food preferences and your goals.
Let’s say you read online about a women who cut out all bread, pasta, potato and rice from her diet and she lost 20kg and now looks super lean with a six-pack. You try do the same thing. You hate life. You’re staving, tired and constipated. You blame yourself, thinking it’s a lack of willpower as to why you can’t stick to this diet. Perhaps it’s because you need to eat more carbohydrate? Maybe you’re doing more exercise than this woman did? Maybe she didn’t do this, but she’s selling you a book or supplement and it’s all bogus? It happens!
You must find what’s right for you. You can lose weight and improve your health on a range of different macronutrient combinations, whether they’re low carb or high carb (more on this later). You must experiment and find what’s right for you.
You’re cutting them out too strictly
Overall, as a society, we eat too much-processed sources of carbohydrate. Think soft drink, cordial, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, chips, etc. If you’ve been eating poorly over the years and you’re now looking to lose weight, reducing your carbohydrate intake is actually a really good thing to do. But don’t cut everything out. You actually do need a little bit and research shows that even a 10% reduction in your carbohydrate intake will decrease weight, blood sugar levels and risk of heart disease.
If you’ve ever tried to go cold turkey with carbs and/or sugar you’ll know that it’s struggle town and most people only last a few weeks before resorting back to old habits because their approach was too drastic. Baby steps is the way to go!
You’ve forgotten about other parts of your diet
Healthy eating is not just about getting your carbs right. There are also two other macronutrients: protein and fat. Remember them? They need some attention too. Are the fats you’re eating from processed foods or whole foods? Are the protein sources you’re eating from good quality food sources?
I’ve met many people over the years on low carb, high-fat diets who are not losing weight. The reason? They’re still eating too much. In particular, they’re not paying attention to both the quality and the quantity of fats that they’re eating. Regardless of what you may believe about nutrition and macronutrients, the evidence is very strong that ALL diets will help you successfully lose weight, regardless of their macronutrient composition, if you reduce your energy intake. All calories may not be created equal, but you still need to have less energy in than the energy your body expends out.
You’re stressing about sugar
Reducing your sugar intake is a very important part of improving your diet and eating more healthily; however, if you start to look at the sugar in every single thing you eat, you’ll start to become stressed and worried. Wanna know why? Because sugar is in EVERYTHING. Except for chicken. And maybe a fresh fish fillet.
For example, take capsicums. They are rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, beta-carotene and lots of other health-promoting chemicals. One large red capsicum also contains 13g of sugar (3 teaspoons). Yep it does. Should you stop eating capsicums? Hell no. They are awesome, healthy and delicious!
What about milk? It has sugar in it too. In 100ml of milk, there are 6g of sugar (this is the same for full cream or skim). Should you stop drinking milk? No. It’s a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, magnesium, potassium and protein.
Start with reducing the obvious high sugar foods that are also poor sources of nutrition. Soft drink, fruit juice, cordial, cakes, biscuits, lollies, pastries, desserts…you know which foods I mean.
Then build your diet out of nutrient dense, whole foods and enjoy something yummy every now and then. Make sure it’s your favourite and you enjoy every single mouthful. I’m totally frothing over coconut Lindt balls at the moment. Mmmm chocolate balls…
Overall diet quality trumps individual nutrient recommendations every time. I just spent the past weekend spending over 20 hours trawling through the research on how effective low carbohydrate diets are for managing type 2 diabetes.
Do you know what I found? That low carb diets work (whether very low or moderate). Do you know what else I found? That they’re not the only dietary approach that someone can take to achieve good health. Other dietary strategies work just as well too.
Here are the main points that successful low carb diets and other diets have in common:
- They are rich in vegetables and whole fruit
- They are low in saturated fat (fat found in processed foods and animal products)
- The carbohydrates eaten are from intact food sources (unprocessed)
- They are energy restricted in order for the individual to lose weight
So, for my parting advice: Don’t be confused anymore. Go find a qualified professional and start exploring what carbohydrate intake is appropriate for you and your goals. You won’t be confused when you find what’s right for you.