As new research reveals low-carb eating plans may not be the answer, is it now time to welcome the carb back into our diets?
To carb or not to carb? With Atkins, Dukan and Paleo, the answer has generally been ‘avoid bread’. But is this carb-phobic approach right?
According to nutritional therapist Sophie Higgins (morefit.co.uk), carbs are essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
‘They are your body and brain’s preferred source of energy. Without glucose, you can experience dips in energy, mood and cognitive function.’
But choosing the right carbs is key. ‘Avoid refined, processed types like white pasta, bread, rice and sugar-rich foods,’ adds Sophie. ‘These trigger sugar spikes that can increase appetite and the release of metabolism-lowering cortisol, while your body stores unused sugar as fat.’
Did you know?
Hulled barley can help with hormone-related issues, such as PCOS and PMS.
New Carbs On The Block
Good news for carboholics! a whole bunch of new (well, rather ancient) grains are back in vogue, which help weight loss while delivering health benefits. ‘These ancient grains aren’t processed, so are easier to digest,’ explains sophie. ‘Many are also low or gluten-free and contain essential minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients, plus protein. They’re also high in fibre, so you feel fuller longer.’ Try these…
The Benefits Made from the buds of the amaranth plant, this contains omega-3 and high levels of calcium, manganese, iron and protein.
Simple Swap Great for adding heartiness to stews or soups, and a good option instead of tabbouleh.
Cals per 100g (Cooked) 155
The Benefits Gluten-free and high in manganese, magnesium and copper, this fruit seed can boost immunity, heart health and lower blood pressure.
Simple Swap Use in place of flour when making muffins, pancakes or veggie burgers.
Cals per 100g (Cooked) 140
The Benefits High in vitamin B2, manganese, niacin, thiamin, copper and magnesium, it can help boost bone, joint and heart health.
Simple Swap Makes a good porridge or use the flour for baking bread.
Cals per 100g (Cooked) 174
The benefits Rich in manganese, magnesium and niacin, kamut is protein rich, and aids in heart and bone health.
Simple Swap A good rice substitute, plus switch kamut flour and pasta for white varieties.
Cals per 100g (raw) 343
The Benefits High in calcium, protein and iron, teff contains antioxidants and vit C, and can help boost digestive
health and weight loss.
Simple Swap Works well with vegetables in a stew, in meatballs and fritters, or as a porridge substitute.
Cals per 100g (raw) 367
The Benefits Rich in B vitamins, zinc and iron, it’s great for cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation.
Simple Swap This nuttytasting grain is great in a salad with roasted veg, or as a rice alternative in risotto.
Cals per 100g (Cooked) 160
Proof Carbs Aren’t The Enemy?
New research suggests that low-carb diets may not be as effective as we thought. In a recent study led by the National Institutes of Health, results showed a low-carb diet doesn’t necessarily shift the pounds.
A group of overweight patients were confined to hospital for two months, where they were first kept on their regular carb-rich diets, then after a month moved on to a low-carb diet (while still eating the same amount of protein and calories). Although insulin levels dropped on the second diet, the patients surprisingly lost weight far more quickly on the first.
Other studies have shown that low-carb diets can outperform standard diets over the long term, but the difference is marginal – just 1kg over a year. So cutting out carbs may not be the quick-fix route to weight loss.
Before you float off into a carb daydream, this doesn’t mean you can scoff slices of toast or pile up the pasta bowl.
Portion control is everything. Many look to the Eatwell plate as a guide to food splits and portion sizes but Sophie suggests tweaking this slightly. ‘The Eatwell plate is out of date. It’s great there’s a healthy portion of fruit and veg, but there’s also an equal portion of carbs with lots of white, refined carbs included,’ she says. Instead, Sophie suggests the following: Proof carbs aren’t the enemy?
If Exercising ‘It depends on your goal, but you need carbs to maintain a fuel supply to the brain, to keep the immune system healthy, for thyroid function and to spare protein, which if used as your main energy source can lead to muscle loss and wastage,’ she explains.
Find what works
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to carb intake. ‘There are a lot of factors to consider – from body type to metabolism, as well as how much exercise you do,’ says Sophie. ‘Try to work with a trainer and nutritionist who can tailor this ratio and track changes in your body. There’s also an element of trial and error – keep a food diary or use a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal so you can notice patterns and work out the right approach for you.’