Why is there so much talk about cutting out carbs?
Diet fads which go against traditional advice often attract attention. Cutting out carbohydrates can also help people shed considerable amounts of weight. But what’s the truth, and should everybody be on a low-carb diet?
Following are 5 key considerations when it comes to the carbohydrate content of your diet.
1. Not all carbs are created equal
Carbohydrate foods vary dramatically in their capacity to energise your body. One way to measure this is through the glycemic index, which rates carbohydrates on the speed that they are absorbed. Importantly, this can have differing affects on your energy levels.
For example, low (Low GI) carbohydrates found in beans, wholegrain pasta, oats and vegetables will digest slowly. This results in a small and continuous release of glucose into the blood stream, providing long-term energy.
Less can be said about highly processed carbohydrates foods such as white bread, rice bubbles and soft drinks. These are absorbed faster, and can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels, playing havoc with your mood and vitality.
2. Is a low-carb diet suitable for your health and fitness goal?
The confusion over carbohydrates often stems from generalisations and individual differences. What works for one may not work for all. For example, the best diet for someone to manage their weight
could be completely different for an endurance athlete.
The key to eliminating the confusion is to be sure about what you want to achieve. Identify your number one health goal, such as weight loss, cardiovascular fitness, rehabilitation, heart health, general wellbeing, muscle strength or osteoporosis prevention.
Learn what foods and specific exercises will best help you achieve your goals. Look for advice that is from qualified professionals or respected organisations, especially information based on scientific research.
3. Carb intake should be adjusted depending on your activity
Carbohydrate needs vary dramatically depending on the intensity and duration of your activity. What's more, this may even vary on a daily basis depending on your training volume.
Carbohydrates, or glucose when digested, provide fuel for working muscles. It’s an important nutrient if you’re physically active.
If you exercise intensely (think HITT
), regularly (4 or more times a week), or your exercise is of a long duration (over 90 minutes), then cutting back on carbs could work against you.
Yes, cut out junk, but don’t cut out low GI carbs that are an important source of energy and nutrients.
4. When it comes to carbohydrates, portion size is important
While not all carbs are bad, you can still get too much of a good thing. Any food can be fattening if you eat too much of it. It’s also easy to over eat highly processed carbohydrate foods such as white pasta, white rice and white bread, as much of the fullness-giving fibre
and nutrients have been removed.
Moderating your carbohydrate intake is especially important if your goal is to reduce body fat, maintain a healthy level of body fat, or if you only exercise at a low intensity.
Ensuring your body is well hydrated can also play a role in preventing hunger, and keeping your portion sizes under control
5. If not carbs, what are you eating instead?
When you cut back on carbohydrates, consider what are you eating instead. If it’s salad vegetables, lean meats, seafood, nuts and seeds and plants fats, then your body will more than likely get the fibre and nutrients it needs.
But if you’re chowing down on cheese, butter and fatty meats such as bacon, there may negative consequences to other areas of your health.
Let’s face it, we don’t eat carbohydrates, protein and fats - we eat food. Food has to be enjoyable, and often makes up a big part of our social life.
Extreme measures rarely last, and can make life miserable. Consider a more moderate intake of low GI carbs. Combine this a variety of minimally processed foods, plenty of water, sleep and exercise, and the odd treat to keep you sane (even if it’s high in carbohydrates).