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The low down on Carbs

Carbohydrates, something to be feared or just a misunderstood nutrient?
Health & Nutrition Articles
Health & Nutrition Articles

By Kaillum Key at Wollongong

Carbohydrates, something to be feared or just a misunderstood nutrient?

Let us debunk what a carb is, the benefits, uses and potential downsides. This is not meant to be for against carbs, this article is here to give you the facts so that you can decide how, when and if you should use them.

So, what is a carb?

It is one of the macronutrients the body uses for daily function alongside protein and fat.

Of the three it IS the one that the body can go without in terms of dense sources such as potato, rice, pasta, refined sugar and even fruit. Is it ideal? Most of the time no, but personal preference is just that, personal.

Yielding 4 calories per gram it has half the energy per gram as fat. Now there are also numerous health benefits that come along with healthy carbohydrate consumption, these include:

Improved and faster recovery from high intensity and endurance-based exercise (running, weights, CrossFit, distance swimming and cycling etc).

Immediate access for energy during exercise and faster absorption/digestion before exercise as well.

Usually a great source of fibre (fruits and starches) aiding in regularity = They can help your bowel movements.

Many carbohydrates also provide a range of nutrients as well, for example:

Fruits - Let's be honest its fruit, if you're eating a range of them, you're going to cover most bases.

Potato's - Potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and what one kind may lack another will usually make up.

Rice and lentils: Vitamin A, C, B6 and 12, Zinc, Iron.

Others that fall into this category would be chickpeas, a good quality brown/seeded bread and beans.

Another underestimated by-product of carbs is hydration, 1g of carbs will hold 3ml of water, hence why when carbohydrates are taken out of a diet there is such a dramatic initial drop of weight, that's right, it's not body fat.

Some people also find that they sleep better when they have carbohydrates in their last meal before bed.

Now what are the things to be wary of when it comes to carbs?

Firstly, portion size. Being aware of what 1 serve of a particular food looks like is especially important. Once you have measured your food a few times you will be surprised at how much overeating most of us have done over our lifetime. By the way, I am well and truly in that category so trust me I get it. Do an experiment, if you like cereal or muesli, measure what the recommended serving size looks like (it's usually 45g), or even 100g of cooked pasta, just do not shoot the messenger.  A quarter of a plate just for carbs is usually a safe bet in 3-4 of your meals if you're eating regularly… that is not a mountain in that quarter either.

Being aware of the type of carbs your having is also important to understand how it influences your food choices. Let us keep it simple:

Best= Veggies and fruits (nutrient dense, low in carbs and fats)

Moderate= starches such as rice, pasta, potatoes, grains, and cereals. 2 maybe 3 serves per day is generally a good starting point.

Poor= refined sugar, biscuits, lollies, chocolates (I would even include those healthy versions you get from the café as well). Now, public service announcement! Our parents and grandparents were right, these are very much a sometimes food, a treat even. Having something from this category each day is probably not going to help your health and fitness goals and here is why.

Foods in the poor choice category have a higher G.I, basically they cause a rapid rise and fall in your blood sugar, which then gives you the sugar crash, causing a craving for more carbs (essentially carbs are sugar) and thus forming a vicious cycle. E.g. eat chocolate, blood sugar goes up and drops, eat more chocolate, another rise and fall then before you know it the block of chocolate is gone and for some reason your wanting ice cream…. Maybe that is just me, but you get the idea.

Fruits also can cause this, HOWEVER, the nutrient value in fruit is so much higher that they easily fall in the best category. How often do most people crave fruit compared to sugary foods? Yeah, it swings heavily towards sugar.

And finally, the question I implore anyone and everyone to consider this, if you cut carbs from your diet, can you see yourself doing it for life? If not then I suggest learning how they work with your body and use them to your advantage, after all, I know that there is 0 chance that I am not going to have a caramel slice ever again.

At the end of the day carbohydrates have some important uses in the body, and though that are not necessarily essential they, for most of us, are an optimal choice in relation to our health and fitness goals. Make the wise choices when it comes to carbs, healthy choices as much as possible, poor choices rarely and do not go over on-board portions.



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