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10 Great Reasons to Eat Carbs: A Dietitian’s Perspective

Part 1

In our work as Dietitians working in private practice, and particularly over the past decade, carbs consistently get a negative wrap by our clients. Daily we hear ‘Carbs are bad’, ‘Carbs are fattening’, ‘Carbs are too processed’, ‘My GP told me to go on a low carb diet’. Carbs have been given such a bad rap and without being fully aware, we are immersed in this messaging throughout our day. Even in the supermarket doing our weekly food shop we are not free of the negative rhetoric about carbs on food packaging- low carb wraps, reduced/low sugar yoghurt, keto pasta, unsweetened almond milk, Spudlite- 25% less carbs. How many of us have taken a step back to question the validity of the claims against carbs, and ask if any of this is true? What makes carbs so ‘bad’ that they need to be avoided or limited at all costs?

Firstly, there are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. If you want to explore this in more detail, then head to our blog post Moralising Food (link to blog). Carbs are so important for us to consume every day for many reasons, that we have done a dive into 20 great reasons below! Before we get into that, let’s talk about what carbs are. Carbohydrates are one of the three nutrients that provide energy or fuel for our bodies to run.  Protein and fat are the other two. As these 3 nutrients are required in larger amounts, they are also commonly known as macronutrients or macros. Foods are made up carbohydrates, proteins and fats either just by themselves or in combination with each other. For example, extra virgin olive oil only contains the macro fat. Carbs are found in grains and cereals (e.g., bread, breakfast cereals, crackers, rice, pasta), fruit and their juices, legumes (e.g., lentils, chickpeas, edamame beans, baked beans), milk, yoghurt, starchy vegetables (e.g., potato, sweet potato, corn, peas), honey, lollies, chocolate and other sweet foods. When carb-containing foods are eaten, they are broken down into the smallest unit, glucose which gets absorbed into the bloodstream. This provides our body with energy/fuel (reason # 8 to eat carbs). Foods that contain little to no carbs include meat, fish, chicken, tofu, eggs, oils, nuts and seeds, cheese, avocado, sugar free drinks, artificial sweeteners and non-starchy vegies such as broccoli and tomato.

Now we know a bit more about carbs, let’s have some fun and explore 10 great reasons why as dietitians we think you should eat them!

  1. Carbs are convenient and readily accessible.

Imagine you’re out running errands or in a rush and needing something eat. You want something, quick, easy and on the go. Carb-containing foods are some of the easiest options, such as a banana, a yoghurt pouch, Up & Go flavoured milk tetra, a muesli bar, frozen shelled edamame beans, crackers or even a vegemite scroll from a bakery! With a busy schedule, carbs tick all the boxes for an on-the-run schedule. The first place to start is to add these foods to your shopping list.

  1. Carbs rock in the food safety stakes.

As many carb snacks don’t require refrigeration, they make a great portable choice from a food hygiene perspective. Like above, if you’re going out all day and need to take some food, you’re ideally going to bring something that is shelf stable. Think a packet of roasted chickpeas, popcorn, crackers, soy crisps, Grain Waves, dried fruit, Sesame Snaps, dried banana chips or peanut butter pretzels for just a few options available.

  1. Carbs support gut health.

Fibre is found in plant foods and travels through the gut undigested. It also helps you to feel fuller for longer which can help anchor hunger between meals. Soluble fibre (a gelling fibre such as oats) can be useful to help bind up loose stools and insoluble fibre (swelling fibre such as All-Bran cereal) can provide bulk in the bowel promoting bowel regularity. In addition, some carbs contain prebiotics, another type of fibre, that promote the production of short-chain-fatty-acids during fermentation, helping to maintain a slightly acidic pH in the colon, favouring the growth of more beneficial bacteria. Great carb choices for gut health include wholegrain breads (wheat, BarleyMaxTM, rye, lupin), bran cereals, rolled oats and legumes. Even a white potato when cooked and cooled contains a high amount of resistant starch, which our good gut bugs love to eat!

  1. Carbs can provide a valuable plant-based source of iron.

Iron transports oxygen around the body and if you eat little to no meat, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, hummus and edamame beans are going to be one of the best ways to top up the iron in your diet. Many carbs are also fortified with extra iron (3mg per serve) such as Weet-Bix breakfast cereal and Milo powder. Adding a source of vitamin C (Kiwi fruit, berries, capsicum, cherry tomatoes) at the same time will help increase the iron absorption which can be lower from plant sources.

  1. Low GI carbs can help prevent troughs in energy levels.

Low GI carbs such as grainy bread, pasta, and long grain rice are broken down slowly in the body, resulting in a gradual release of glucose in the bloodstream. Spread evenly over the day they help sustain energy levels for longer, which prevents spikes and then crashes in blood glucose levels and troughs in energy levels later in your day.

  1. High GI carbs can be vital for endurance sport.

Glucose is used by the muscles as fuel for contraction and movement, so having an adequate ongoing supply of carbohydrates in the body ensures there is enough available energy to support exercise intensity and duration. Glycogen (the stored form of glucose in our muscles and liver) is a crucial source of fuel during exercises, therefore consuming enough carbs in your diet can allow for sustained performance. Consuming quick-release carbs, (high GI carbs) regularly during an endurance event (30-60 grams per hour) can maintain performance e.g. white bread +honey/jam or a sports drink, bars or gels.

  1. Carbs help with recovery after sport or intense exercise.

When we participate in physical activity and use up our stored energy and glycogen, we need to replenish it. Evidence shows that high GI carbohydrate choices result in higher muscle glycogen storage post-exercise compared to low GI foods. By eating quick release carbs (1g per kg body weight immediately post), we can better replenish our glycogen stores, ensuring enough energy for your next activity.  Intense exercise can lower your blood sugar levels, so consuming some quick release carbs post workout can prevent feeling fatigued.

  1. Carbs are the preferred fuel for all cells of the body and brain.

As mentioned earlier, carbs are broken down into glucose. With the help of insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas); glucose enters the cells which is then is used to create energy. By not consuming enough carbohydrates, you may feel fatigued, have decreased cognitive function, and experience poor concentration, problem-solving skills and focus, or increased anxiety or low mood.

  1. Carbs help spare protein to maintain or build muscle.

If we are not eating enough carbohydrates, our body may turn to protein as an alternative energy source. This can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue which can have a negative impact on our immune system, muscle strength, balance, coordination, fatigue and metabolic rate. Remember that both protein and carbs provide calories for the body. Contrary to the negative messaging around carbs being fattening, the energy density of carbs and protein is actually the same at 4 calories per gram.

  1. Carbs help manage nausea in pregnancy or during cancer treatment.

Bland carbs such as plain crackers, toast, or plain boiled rice can help settle the stomach and absorb excess stomach acid which may contribute to feelings of nausea. They are also typically easier to digest than fats and proteins, producing less digestive discomfort when feeling nauseas, require minimal preparation and have less of a smell to not further aggravate nausea.

If you feel anxious about carbs and want to learn how to re-incorporate them into your diet, one of our dietitians can help provide you with a step-by-step approach. Reach out today to our Dietwise Care Coordinators today to get started by contacting us on 08 9388 2423 or reception@dietwise.net.au. You can even contact us through our website here. We are open 6 days per week for in-person and Telehealth appointments including both after-hours and Saturdays.

Written by:

Sonya Douglas & Caylah Batt

Accredited Practising Dietitians (APD) & Credentialed Eating Disorder Clinicians (CEDC)

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