What’s the deal with carbohydrates?

Written by Croí Dietitian Aisling Harris. Extract taken from Aisling’s blog, The Superfit Foodie

Quite often when I hear a person say that they are going to try and lose weight or “the diet starts tomorrow” the first thing they say they’re going to do is “cut out the bread”.

But bread is not the enemy!*

*If you’re eating the recommended portion size.

Portion size is something that a lot of us struggle with. This is mainly because we’ve never really been told what an actual portion size should look like. I certainly got a shock when I found out! The massive portions of rice, potato and pasta or huge bread rolls that we get in restaurants or takeaways has probably distorted our idea of what we should be serving ourselves at home.

Before I explain what portion sizes should look like, I feel it would be helpful to give a quick explanation of what carbohydrates are and why we need them. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. We need energy to keep our body running, similar to how a car needs petrol. But, like a car, we can only store a certain amount of energy or petrol at a time. Once the tank is full, petrol starts to leak out. Once our carbohydrate storage centres (muscle and liver) are full, any extra carbohydrate is converted to fat and stored in our fat tissue (our bodies are very resourceful and know that energy is a valuable resource. It doesn’t want to just dump it so it stores it where we have the most storage space – our fat tissue). However, like a car uses up petrol pretty fast, we used up our carbohydrate reserves (scientifically called glycogen) pretty fast which is why it is recommended we have a portion of carbohydrates at each meal.

So basically, you need enough energy from carbohydrates to keep your body running but you don’t want too much. But I like carbohydrates you say? I want to eat more you say? Well, thankfully there is a way you can do this…

Exercise!! Yes, just like a car uses up petrol and has to be refilled after a journey, your muscles use up carbohydrate when you exercise meaning that in order to refill them you need to eat more carbohydrates! If you aren’t very active then you’re carbohydrate needs are lower. If you eat more than you need then you will put on weight.

So, now that we, hopefully, know why we need carbohydrates, the next question is what are carbohydrates?

Well, basically they are foods that once eaten and digested are broken down into sugars (don’t panic, sugar isn’t evil either, we need it for energy).

The most common examples include bread, potato, rice, pasta, oats, cereals, grains, beans, peas and lentils. These are often called complex carbohydrates. Other foods that contain carbohydrate are fruits and dairy products. The other group of foods that contain carbohydrates are foods like sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits, bars, scones, buns, sweets etc. These are the only carbohydrate foods that you should avoid or limit.

“But I heard low-carbohydrate diets are good for weight loss?”. Technically this is true. If you don’t eat carbohydrates then your body will break down your fat stores for energy. However, long term this can have unwanted side effects. The main reason is because carbohydrates are our main source of fibre. Fibre is needed to keep things running smoothly through our digestive tract. If you don’t eat enough fibre you’re likely to become constipated and long-term it can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer.

How much carbohydrates do you need? Here I’m specifically talking about cereals, bread, potato, pasta rice and other grains. Even though fruits, dairy products and plant proteins contain carbohydrates, they have their own recommended intakes which I’ll cover in a later blog post.

Using the guide above, you can work out how many servings of carbohydrates you need per day. An inactive person would be someone with an office job who does little to no exercise. Even someone with a job that requires them to be on their feet for the most of the day can still be considered inactive as standing and walking, unless it’s at a brisk pace, does not raise your heart-rate enough to give you benefits (I know this will be disappointing to hear for anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet!).

The minimum amount of exercise adults need to do to maintain a healthy weight is 30 minutes on 5 days of the week. This exercise can be as basic as a brisk walk. If you’re just starting out then it can even be split up into shorter bouts of 10 minutes three times a day (e.g. a longer walk to work, lunchtime lap of the office building and brisk walk back to the car (maybe with a bit of a detour). You just want to get your heart-rate up a bit and your breathing to become slightly heavier.

Continue reading here: http://thesuperfitfoodie.com/2018/02/whats-the-deal-with-carbohydrates.html