The misunderstood macro
Low carb-diets have been around for decades. Paleo and ketogenic diets picked up where Aitkens left off, promoting higher consumption of the other macronutrients; protein and fat, and avoidance of carbohydrates.
As a result of these popular diets, carbs are viewed by many as the enemy of weight loss, but is this really the case?
Contrary to the claims of low-carb diet advocates, the evidence shows that a diet rich in healthy, unrefined carbohydrates does not lead to weight gain or obesity.
What are carbohydrates?
Sugar, starch and fibre make up the carbohydrate family. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that releases energy in our body quickly. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that takes the body longer to break down. Dietary fibre is the structural part of plants that our small intestine can’t digest. It assists with moving food through the body and is broken down by our gut bacteria in the large intestine. Eating fibre aids digestion and supports gut health.
Are there good carbs and bad carbs?
It’s the highly refined white carbs that gave carbohydrates a bad name. Think sugar, pasta, white bread that has been stripped of its goodness, confectionery and sweetened drinks. It’s restrictive and unrealistic to say they should always be avoided (hello crunchy white baguette and Grandma’s sponge cake). However, they offer little nutritional benefit and have been linked to weight gain, diabetes and chronic disease. Refined white carbohydrates should only be consumed occasionally as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Whole, unrefined carbohydrates on the other hand, are a nutritious, important component of a healthy diet. Think whole grains, fruit, legumes and vegetables. These foods deliver fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals and are naturally low in sugar and fat.
How many carbohydrates should we be eating?
Carbohydrates are the brain and the muscles’ preferred source of fuel. Dietary guidelines suggest carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of our daily energy intake. Dietary fibre is essential to our health and is understood to aid in weight loss by creating feelings of fullness while delivering less energy than other macronutrients. Fibre intake is associated with a reduction in diabetes and chronic disease. Women should consume 25g and men 30g of fibre daily.
What if I still want to follow a low carb diet?
There is certainly evidence to suggest low carb diets can assist with weight loss, however numerous studies have shown that reduced calorie diets will result in meaningful weight loss, regardless of the macronutrient they limit or emphasise.
It comes down to what works best for every individual. Intolerances, genetics, personal and cultural preferences can all influence the outcome of a diet or eating plan.
Your health will not be adversely affected if you adopt a low carbohydrate style of eating as long as you are meeting your daily energy requirements and getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals from other sources. However, the scientific evidence does not support cutting out all carbohydrates from your diet. Research has shown that diets with between 50 to 55 % of daily energy from complex carbohydrates are the most beneficial to health along with the remaining energy coming from plant-derived sources of protein and fat.
So maybe it’s time to make friends with carbohydrates again. However, just like your friendships; choose your carbohydrates wisely!
Visit this page to find out how much protein you should be eating.