There’s so much conflicting information floating around about carbohydrates.
One minute, they’re the foundation of a healthy diet; the next minute they’re the cause of obesity and ill-health. So, should you eat or avoid carbs for optimal health and wellbeing? And do you need to go very low carb to lose weight?
Firstly, what are carbohydrates?
Structurally speaking, carbohydrates are compounds that are made up of saccharide units joined together. The word saccharide comes from the Greek word σάκχαρον (sákkharon), meaning “sugar”.
Carbohydrates range from simple carbs made up of one or two saccharide units (these are sugars like glucose, lactose or sucrose), through to more complex carbs with long chains of saccharides (these are starches that you would find in foods like rice, pasta, potatoes, kūmara and taro).
Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate too, but it isn’t digested like other carbs. Dietary fibre comes in two forms – soluble or insoluble – and they work in the bowel to help to keep you regular.
So, are carbs ‘good’ or ‘evil’?
Not all carbs are created equal. Some are much better for our health than others.
Generally speaking, minimally processed ‘whole’ foods that are naturally rich in nutrients and fibre (like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) are much better for your health than sugars and refined carbohydrates which are low in nutrition and fibre (like fizzy drinks, biscuits, cakes, pastries and chocolate).
You probably know that eating too much sugar isn’t great for your pearly whites either as sugars can cause tooth decay, and they don’t keep you satisfied. Sugary soft drinks in particular can add extra ‘empty calories’ to your diet, and still leave you feeling hungry.
On the other hand, healthy carbs pack a real nutritional punch and come with a load of health benefits.
Why eat ‘whole food’ carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes?
– Providing dietary fibre for a healthy gut and to help keep you feeling full
– Rich in and vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium
– Providing phytonutrients – these are special components found in plant foods that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties
– Helping to maintain a healthy body weight and reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers
– Supporting mental and physical performance – our brain and muscles rely on a regular supply of carbohydrates in order to function optimally.
Do you need to go very low carb to lose weight?
You may have heard that very low carb or keto diets are better for weight loss and reducing disease risk. However, we know from the research that no single diet is superior for long-term weight loss, and similar beneficial health effects can be achieved with a more moderate carb restriction. Very low carb diets can also be difficult to stick to for a long time.
Fresh Start meals have a reduced carbohydrate content, giving you the best of both worlds – helping to keep you satisfied with a lower calorie content, while still giving you all the benefits of healthy carbs mentioned above.
Mindy Wigzell is a NZ Registered Nutritionist and owner of Flex Nutrition. She loves helping people reach their health and performance goals through nutrition, focusing on sustainable changes for long-term results and maximum enjoyment along the way. In her spare time, you can usually find her in the forest on her mountain bike, or making a huge mess in the kitchen!