I feel really sorry for carbohydrates. Especially at this time of year when dieting and weight loss are on many peoples minds as the New Year approaches.
There is a huge misconception that eating carbohydrates leads to weight gain and I'm here to tell you that we need carbohydrates in our diet.
When it comes to nutrition, it is the cooking method not the carbohydrate food itself that we should be considering. Quality and quantity are what is important.
Here are 10 reasons why we need carbohydrates in our diet:
1. Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred (and most efficient) energy source
2. Carbohydrates have a protein-sparing effect meaning that if you have adequate carbohydrates in your diet it protects your muscles from being broken down and used as energy.
3. Most carbohydrates are high in fibre which promotes gut microbiome diversity, gut health and good digestion. Resistant starches (prebiotics) feed our gut bacteria
4. Carbohydrate intake is directly linked to improving your mood as it is needed to make serotonin (a.k.a. the happy hormone)
5. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin which is the main hormone involved in sleep
6. Having regular carbohydrates throughout the day helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and regulate appetite
7. Carbohydrates are extremely versatile to cook with
8. Some carbohydrates, like wholegrains contain up to 26 different nutrients!
9. Not eating enough carbohydrates can negatively impact our concentration, memory and performance
10. Pasta is the most comforting and delicious meal (a little biased here). But in all seriousness, carbohydrates add balance to a meal, are delicious and provide our body with so many important nutrients
If you have an unhealthy relationship with carbohydrates, it is important not to categorise them as "good" or "bad" and instead start to view all food as being neutral. When we demonise carbohydrate foods and try to restrict them, this increases the chance of overeating or binging on them later.
I recommend choosing wholegrain carbohydrates mostly such as wholegrain bread, rice, pasta, corn or quinoa, fruit and vegetables like potato. A good starting point is to include 1/4 to 1/3 of your plate with good quality carbohydrates, and try to have a source of carbohydrates with your snacks such as fruit, popcorn or wholegrain crackers.
It is okay to include ultra-processed foods like cakes, biscuits or crisps as part of a balanced diet. Remember that these foods aren't 100% carbohydrates, they usually contain fats and protein too! How much you include these foods in your diet depends on your energy requirements and health goals.
Instead of focusing on what you can't have, focus on what foods you can add to your diet from the core food groups (vegetables, fruit, dairy & alternatives, protein foods and breads & cereals) first. Remember context is key.
Credit: Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.