There are common questions that I get asked by my nutrition clients.
Some of them are: “I have heard that bread is bad for you, should I cut it from my diet?”, “My personal trainer said I am not allowed to eat rice if I am trying to lose weight, is this right?” or “I love fruit and I used to think it was really good for you, but then I read it’s full of sugar, so should I stop eating it?”.
I refer to this as “carbphobia” – fear of eating carbs. It is common these days to be warned off them, so it is no wonder you are left pondering the question, are carbohydrates good or bad for you? The answer is both.
To better understand this answer, let’s start with WHY we need carbs. Carbs are our energy foods. Our bodies and brain need carbs for fuel. If you don’t eat enough carbs to fuel your activity levels, you will feel hungry, tired, irritable, brain dead and maybe even a tad crazy… or crazier in some cases! Long story short, our bodies need carbs to function. We cannot function optimally long term without them.
So does it matter what type of carbs we eat? ABSOLUTELY, 100 %, YES! When choosing which carbs to include in your diet, always consider the GLYCAEMIC INDEX (GI). Lower GI carbs will help control your blood sugar levels, help manage your weight and keep you feeling fuller for longer. These “Good Carbs” include:
- vegetables (Sweet potato is a winner!)
- brown or basmati rice
- other whole grains
- rye or super grainy bread/wraps/crisp breads
- dairy products including yoghurt and milk
On the other hand, we have high GI carbs which you want to limit as much as possible, and include:
- white bread
- white pasta/noodles
- jasmine rice
- processed breakfast cereals
- processed sugary foods
- energy drinks
- fizzy drinks
- alcohol (dang!)
- chocolate, ice-cream, McDonalds…. you get the gist!
The next thing to consider when choosing carbs is WHEN to eat them and HOW MUCH to have to serve your current energy needs ONLY. Eat excess carbs when your body doesn’t need them for energy, and your body will store the remainder of the energy you don’t use from them as fat. This pretty much goes with any food. Overindulge and you will pay the price in FAT STORAGE! True story.
So the general rule of thumb is time them around the most active part of your day, so generally, at breakfast and lunchtime, or after a massive workout if your body needs replenishing and consider a serving size to be a small hand fist size of whatever “good carb” option you desire. Please note this is a general guide and the exact amount of carbohydrates you need is very individual depending on your personal goals and lifestyle. To determine your exact requirements, I recommend chatting to your local dietitian.
One last word from me: I’m not going to tell you to never eat chocolate again or not to have a drink on the weekend with your hubby. This is so unrealistic and unsustainable. What I am saying is start to think about the quality of the food you are eating, the portion sizes you are serving up on your plate, and cutting down on the food that gives you zero nutritional value.