Poor old carbs have copped a beating for a number of years now and it is a common belief that eating too much bread, rice, breakfast cereal and pasta will lead to weight gain.
It is also for this reason that many people will skip their favourite pasta or pizza on a menu in favour of a steak or grill in order to avoid more of the evil carbs. So how is it the case that some people, or cultures seem to have no issues in basing meals around these carbs? What is the difference between the way they eat pasta or bread and the way we do? If you are missing a delicious bowl of pasta or a hearty sandwich at lunchtime, here are the ways you can have your carbs minus the guilt.
Carbohydrates are primarily found in plant based foods including bread, rice, breakfast cereal, fruits, starchy vegetables and sugars and offer 17kJ (four calories) of energy per gram. The simplest form of carbohydrate is glucose and carbohydrates range from mixes of simple sugars to hundreds of individual sugars which form more complex carbohydrates such as breads and cereals.
Traditionally it was recommended that active individuals primarily base their intake around carbohydrate rich foods simply as carbohydrates are the primary fuel for the muscle. As such, the more active an individual, the greater the amount of carbohydrate they will require to adequately fuel the muscle. Modern thinking has changed in this view slightly as while individuals may be relatively active for some parts of the day, many of us also spend many hours sitting, which means our carbohydrate requirements are significantly reduced.
Isn't low carb better for fat loss?
As carbs are the primary fuel for the muscles, it is a common belief that eating fewer carbs means that you automatically burn a greater amount of fat. While this is somewhat true, as the body prefers to burn carbs in the form of glucose as its primary energy source, if carbs are restricted to a great enough extent it will shift to burning fat but while slowing metabolic rate over time. This means that initially you will get good results from a strict low carb approach but over time metabolic rate will reduce and the body will be burning fewer calories as a result. For this reason, while reduced carbohydrate intake supports fat loss, a low carb approach can cause a reduction in metabolic rate long term. This effect can be observed in individuals who have great success initially using a low carb approach but who find it difficult to maintain or achieve again once they return to their usual carbohydrate intake.
How much carbohydrate do I need?
The amount of carbs we need largely depends on how much we move; if you spend all day on your feet and are already quite slim, you will need more than someone who sits all day does not work out and who has insulin resistance. And similarly, on days you train for an hour or more, you will need more than a sedentary day when you barely leave the house. Without shifting to a complete 'low carb' approach where carbs equate to
Now while this is all good in theory, when it comes to actual eating behaviours, people eat very differently. While they may think they are eating 'low carb' what they are often doing is eating the wrong balance of carbs, for example, not enough at breakfast before then overdoing things with heavy rice or quinoa salads at lunch or extra snacks, coffees and juices throughout the day. The timing and proportion of carbs is just as important as the total amounts. This means that if you do want to eat pasta regularly, it is all about the portions you are consuming and what else you have eaten throughout the day.
Some easy ways to help lower your daily carbohydrate intake and support long term weight control include:
1 Swap to lower carb bread
Regular large slices of sliced bread or Turkish loaves can contain as much as 50-60g of carbohydrates per serve compared to just 20g for lower carb loaves.
2) Eat carb rich foods and protein food together
Greek yoghurt and fruit; eggs on wholegrain toast or cheese and wholegrain crackers - a mix of carbs and protein helps to control the release of the hormone insulin and reduce the overall glycaemic load of the meal or snack.
3 Avoid high carb snacks
Rice crackers, banana bread, fruit juices and dried fruit are all snacks that contain refined grains; white flour and/or concentrated sugars which bump up the glycaemic load of the diet significantly.
4 Watch the serves of grains
Brown rice, quinoa, pasta and oats all contain a number of positive nutritional properties but they are also all relatively high carbohydrate foods - for example, a single cup of brown rice contains as much as 40g of total carbohydrate or the equivalent of three to four slices of bread. These foods are nutritious but keep your portions to just ½ - ¾ cup cooked.
5 Use your dairy foods
Whether it is cheese as an after dinner snack; yoghurt with a small serve of breakfast cereal in the morning or milk with your coffee, the study found a positive association with the regular consumption of full cream dairy over time. This effect could be due to the fact that dairy food, thanks to its high protein and nutrient content helps to reduce the glycaemic load of the diet.