Carbohydrates – sugars that provide our bodies with energy and allow us to function. Carbohydrates aren’t just found in the obvious foods, such as bread or pasta; fruit and vegetables contain carbohydrates and so do dairy products. Social media is filled with people advocating different diets based around carbohydrates; from low-carb to high-carb. All of this can lead to a case of CARB CONFUSION and so I thought I’d share my thoughts and my own experience with carbs with you, as well as a bit of research I’ve done.
Carbs have a reputation for making us fat. This is partly true- excess carbohydrates are converted to fat for storage, which can contribute to obesity. Notice I said ‘excess’ – if you have a sedentary lifestyle and you’re consuming masses of starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, then it’s highly likely you will gain some weight. But by eating wholegrains in moderate portions and maintaining an active lifestyle, you’re giving your body the energy it needs to function properly.
A while ago, having been bombarded with the news that cutting carbohydrates would result in enhanced althletic performance, leanness, and overall better health, I went low-carb. I said goodbye to grains and gluten, convinced I would feel full of energy and fabulous in all the ways that I was told I would feel.
However, it’s clear that I was too hasty – it’s very easy to jump on board the latest fad just because everyone else seems to be doing it, after all. I should also mention that I am quite an active person. After a while of eating this way, I began to feel constantly lethargic and really hungry all the time. I also felt quite depressed – cutting out things like porridge and forbidding myself from consuming any grains made me feel deprived and restricted. Furthermore, in cutting out a key diet component, I was consuming too much of the other macronutrients; protein and fats, to fill me up. I am totally in favour of fats, but the moderation rule applies to most things, and as a result of this lifestyle I was consuming too much of it. Put simply, I wasn’t getting the right amount of energy to support my lifestyle and growth.
I came to the conclusion that we are omnivores – we ‘eat all’. I completely understand that people have dietary preferences and intolerances, but personally I like to consume a bit of everything- including meat and dairy – as this makes me feel my best and ensures that I get a balanced and varied diet. I avoid eating refined white carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta as these are a source of empty calories and an instant energy hit that will cause you to slump later on, leaving you hungry and craving sugar. I would however definitely recommend eating a portion of wholegrains or nutritious carbohydrate source with most of your meals, such as oats, or for a lower-carbohydrate option, pulses (lentils, beans, etc), quinoa or sweet potatoes (a more nutritious alternative to starchy white potatoes, and they also count towards one of your 5-a-day). Wholegrains are also an excellent source of vitamin B, needed for healthy skin, eyes, hair and liver.
I have also re-introduced small amounts of gluten back into my diet, mainly in the odd slice of rye bread or wholegrain sourdough, as these are both easier on the digestive system than some other gluten-containing sources. I have to say that I am pretty unhappy about the idea of gluten being so harmful, and that it has become very faddish, with many cutting it out purely because they believe it to be bad for us. Gluten has acquired a bad reputation; it’s claimed to irritate the gut lining and cause gut leakage, thus reducing your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. However, evidence shows that gluten is only harmful to those with coeliac disease, individuals whose immune systems recognise gluten as foreign and responds by attacking healthy tissue, leading to a range of nasty and severe symptoms. But here’s the thing – only 1 in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease, according to the NHS website. So, why are we suddenly all banishing it from a diet in a bid to be “healthy”?
I would also like to know why gluten is considered harmful and the protein found in gluten-free grains such as rice and oats (avenin) is not. Avenin can cause problems with some gluten-sensitive individuals as it’s very similar to gluten- so why cut out gluten but not avenin? It’s certainly true that the number of people with a gluten intolerance is increasing, but let’s not forget that the population is also increasing, all sorts of ailments are subject to better diagnosis and many people are consuming processed foods with nasty additives which may be causing problems.
I don’t find it necessary to eat a portion of starchy carbohydrates with every single meal; I love big veggie-based salads and sometimes fancy a lighter meal that’s easy on digestion, and I often incorporate pulses for a combination of protein and carbohydrates. But, being half-Scottish, I absolutely love my porridge bowls, and I enjoy grains such as nutty black rice paired with a coconut curry. Knowing that these are actually beneficial to my health also makes me feel good.
As a result of introducing main carbohydrate sources back into my diet, I have found that I have more energy to complete my workouts with and to live my life in general, I feel much less tired, I feel less deprived and I am (slightly) less hungry all the time- those of you who know me will know that my stomach is scarily similar to the Doctor’s Tardis in that it’s quite noisy and much bigger than it looks! Importantly, I also feel much happier – I no longer experience guilt when I consume grains or gluten.
I hope this helps! Please feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences too, as I’d love to hear from others too. Thank you for reading!