Are carbohydrates really making us fat? When it comes to carbohydrates there is a lot of contradictory advice out there. Low-carb, Keto, Lectin-free…these diets all cull the carbs. But is this good for us and is it really necessary? Before you opt for bunless burgers, courgetti and cauliflower rice (just a few carb-free alternatives which carb dodgers are embracing) read on…

 

Carbs have been demonised as the macronutrient group responsible for making us fat under the premise that a diet which restricts carbs results in weight loss. This is true. Cut out refined sugary carbs and you may well lose weight. But that’s be because it’s a reduction in calories, not carbs, that really matter in terms weight loss.

 

Another reason for weight loss on a low-carb diet can be attributed to a reduction in carbs results in an increase in protein and/or fat. Studies show a diet higher in protein keeps you feeling full and tends to decrease overall calorie intake, at least in the short term. So it’s this entire nutrient ratio shift that can also be responsible for the positive weight-loss outcome, and not the fact that carbohydrate intake has been cut down.

 

Still need convincing? When we analyse the diets Indigenous groups such as the Tarahumara from Mexico  thrived on diets made up of 70% carb diets for hundreds of years, obesity was rare (if not non-existent[1]). Important to note that only 6% of total calories were derived from simple sugars. Even by the 1990’s, 50-60% of calories eaten in Japan and China still came from carbs. This was more than the US or UK, yet obesity rates were much lower[2]. If carbs themselves are fattening, these populations would not have had lean bodies and good health overall, regardless of how active they were!

 

So we now know carbs aren’t the devil. Carbs are our bodies’ main source of energy and without them and the resulting glucose, we’d struggle to feel energised. Wholegrain carbs contain a lot of fibre, it’s recommended that we get 30g per day but the average intake in the UK is 17g/day for women and 20g/day for men. Diets high in fibre help keep us regular and are associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Carbs are also rich in B vitamins, calcium, selenium and folate. Slow-releasing carbs such as brown rice and porridge help keep us fuller for longer and if you are watching calories carbs aren’t very high.

 

The NHS recommends adults have 260g of carbs / day. Which can be derived from the foods below:

Food (per 100g)  Energy value Kcal/KJ  Carbohydrate (g)  Sugars (g)  Starch (g)  Fibre (AOAC) (g)
Brown rice, boiled 132/562 29.2 0.1 29.0 1.5
 

Spaghetti, white, cooked

 

141/601

 

31.5

 

1.0

 

30.5

 

1.7

Spaghetti, wholemeal, cooked 134/569 27.5 Tr 27.5 4.2
 

Baked potato (with skin)

 

97/413

 

22.6

 

1.4

 

21.2

 

2.6

 

Wholemeal bread

 

217/922

 

42.0

 

2.8

 

39.3

 

7.0

 

White bread

 

219/931

 

46.1

 

3.4

 

42.7

 

2.5

 

Lentils, red, cooked

 

100/424

 

17.5

 

0.8

 

16.2

 

2.5

 

Peas, cooked

 

79/329

 

10.0

 

1.2

 

7.6

 

5.6

 

Sweetcorn, canned

 

78/330

 

13.9

 

7.5

 

6.2

 

3.1

 

Banana

 

81/348

 

20.3

 

18.1

 

2.2

 

1.4

 

Raisins

 

272/1159

 

69.3

 

69.3

 

0

 

2.66

 

Several studies have found links between consuming carbohydrate-rich foods and the amino acid tryptophan (precursor to the happy hormone serotonin). So now you have it. There’s no need to avoid the bakeries, Italian restaurants and sushi bars.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/433816/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/13679952/