"Should I Eat Carbs?" A Dietitian's Answer
Is avoiding carbs at every meal making your life miserable?
Well, it's time to become friends again with carbs. Read about they're GOOD for you in this post.
Photo source: Canva
Carbohydrates (or Carbs as they're commonly called), have a bad reputation these days don’t they?
In the fight for weight loss they’ve become enemy number one. But is the hate justified? Obviously not.
No matter what people say, carbs are important for your health.
They have incredible nutritional value, they’re tasty (yes that’s important too!) and contrary to popular belief, they can even help you lose weight!
So, to clean up the reputation of carbs (and save you from a lifetime of salad dinners), here are some quick facts about carbohydrates which should make you less guilty about eating them.
1. Carbs help you sleep better
On a low-carb diet and finding it difficult to fall asleep? Well, it's not always because you're hungry.
Sleep studies show that carbs have a direct effect on the brain and make it easier to get your beauty sleep at night.
Your body takes longer to digest complex carbohydrates (the kind you will find in lentils, fruits, brown rice or oatmeal) and the process increases your body’s serotonin levels, which in turn leads to better sleep.
Now, I’m not saying you should binge on carbs for the best beauty sleep. But, a moderate amount (approximately 3 to 4 hours before bedtime) will help you sleep better.
2. Carbs help you think better
Your brain requires a lot of energy to function properly (up to 30% of your body’s total energy consumption in fact) and the best source of energy you’ll find are good carbs.
Some researchers believe that low carb diets can impact your ability to learn and think.
Though there needs to be more research to back this up, the fact that your brain relies mostly on glucose for energy (which you’ll find plenty of in good quality carbs) means that they could be onto something.
3. Cutting carbs can lead to digestive problems
For some people cutting out on carbs means their body won’t have enough fiber to digest food properly.
Fiber is essential to your bowel movements.
It adds bulk to your stool which in turn, helps it move through your colon better (yes, in other words it makes it much easier to go to the toilet).
So, if you’ve switched to a low carb diet and are having irregular bowel movements such as constipation and diarrhea, your diet change could be the reason why.
Fibre also plays an important part in maintaining the good bacteria that live in your bowels. Reducing your fibre intake puts you are at risk of having an imbalance in your gut microflora - the population of bacteria that live in your bowels. As a result, you can get excessive bloating and digestive discomfort.
4. Low carb diets lead to short term weight loss. Not long term.
Cutting out carbs is a commitment.
Because they’re a staple food in many diets across the world, many popular dishes contain carbs which makes it very hard for you to avoid them.
This makes it tough to stick to a low carb diet on the long run. Sure, for short term weight loss it can work but if every meal of every day becomes a test of your determination to be carb free… you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Not all carbs are created equal
By now it should be clear that carbohydrates are an important part of your diet.
That being said, it is true that some carbohydrates are better for you than others.
When you have the option, try to include more complex carbohydrates in your diet than simple ones.
Complex carbs have more nutritional value than simple carbs.
The extra nutrient content in complex carbs means you'll feel more full after a meal and so, you'll eat less of them. With simple carbs however, you may have to eat more of them to feel full which will have a dramatic impact on your diet and health.
Use the infographic below to help make better decisions when it comes to your carb intake. As a rule, choosing more foods in the left column is better for your health.
Of course, this is not clear cut and sometimes we don't have the option. But whenever, you're going food shopping or you're able to make a choice, always opt for the option higher in fibre - the complex carb.
But... I don't like complex carbs.
Most of us prefer simple carbs because we're more used to eating them.
Restaurants, fast foods, and heavily marketed products use simple carbs their primary ingredient (white rice, burger buns, and breakfast cereal), so it can be harder to make the switch to complex carbohydrates.
Here are some tips to help you make the switch.
Don't like brown rice? It may be that you haven't mastered the cooking process yet. Make sure to soak it for 2 to 3 hours first, then rinse the water and finally cook it for 30-40 minutes. Check out the brand I personally use and love, but any brands work.
Tried wholewheat pasta and you just can't handle it? Pasta semi-wheat (pâte "semi-blé complet") are available in supermarkets, so you could start there. If you can't get access to the semi-wheat either, then make sure to cook your pasta "Al dente" - the only way the Italians have them. Cook them less than usual, following the packet instructions. "Al dente" pasta has a lower glycemic index, which simply means it will not cause a spike in the glucose/sugar levels in your blood.
Liking muesli and granola? Happy to hear it, that's a great swap from the regular bread, butter and cheese. Just make sure to opt for options without added sugar as even the healthy mueslis and granolas can be loaded with sugar. I know it's annoying but sugar is a cheap way to add taste and fill up the container of your cereals. Alternatively, you can try to make your own :)
Brown bread (speaking in the local Mauritian context here) may not always be the best option. Yes unfortunately we're not too sure what goes in the wholewheat/"brown" bread we eat in Mauritius so make sure to diversify your intake of carbs. There are 2 things I always say in nutrition, and one of them is variety is key.
Below you can find another infographic about awesome carbs to add to your meals, most of them are grown in Mauritius.
I hope this article clears up any questions you have about carbs. Keep in mind that I’m not saying you should NOT eat simple carbs. But, it’s a fact that complex carbs are better for your health.
Now, the choice is yours to make. And remember, even complex carbs can be bad for you if you over indulge in them or fry them as this article shows.