oats are a source of carbohydrates, but why do we need carbs?

Why do we need carbohydrates and should I cut them out?

There are countless diet and nutritional plans out there that focus on cutting carbs.

However, it pays to know a little more about the reality of cutting carbs. Most nutritionists will tell you that cutting any one food group is not usually recommended, which can cause confusion.

However, many people feel that the carbs in their diet are making them gain weight and feel sluggish. If that sounds like you - consider effective ways of cutting carbs that do not impede on our overall health and most importantly – won’t deprive you of the energy you need.

What are carbs?

Carbohydrates are biomolecules found in all living organisms, including plants. Much like fat and protein, carbohydrates are macronutrients. This means that they should form a significant part of your daily food intake.

Carbohydrates are made of three sub-types – sugar, starch and fibre. Not only are they the body’s primary energy source, carbs can reduce cholesterol levels, aid our bowel health and feed the good bacteria in our gut.

If carbs are good for us, then why do so many diet plans focus on cutting them out?

The reason why cutting carbs is seen as an effective way of losing weight is that carbs contain calories (4kcal per gram) and as much as there are healthy carbohydrates out there, carbs also exist in a lot of unhealthy and ‘fattening’ foods.

Remember - there are two types of carbohydrates:

Refined carbohydrates

This refers to the ‘simple’ carbs which are made up primarily of sugars and starch. This includes processed grains such as white flour, which have lost much of their vitamins, minerals and fibre in the process of refinement.

Refined carbs are found in white bread, white pasta, breakfast cereals and many sweet foods such as cakes and biscuits. They will give you a quick energy fix but are likely to cause a sugar crash soon after.

Complex carbohydrates

These carbs are slowly digestible, taking a lot longer for your body to break down. Because of this, the energy they contain is released to our body’s cells slowly. These carbs are considered ‘good’ carbs and can be found in products such as wholegrain foods (pasta, rice, bread etc) and most fruit and vegetables.

So, should I cut carbs?

There is solid logic in limiting refined carbs. In fact, this is the message health experts have been promoting in recent years. So, the answer is yes, you should cut out refined carbs. Even cutting down can have significant health benefits.

However, it is not advisable to cut out carbs altogether. This would leave you hungry, lacking in energy and probably with a pounding headache too. Your brain runs on glucose and depriving it of carbohydrates - its most ready source of glucose – you’ll likely be feeling foggy-headed after a few days.

Replacing all your white carbs with wholegrain varieties means that you can keep eating bread, pasta and rice. Remember, if you’re increasing your intake of fibre you should drink more water to help avoid digestive issues e.g. constipation.

Replace breakfast cereals high in refined carbs with some healthy, filling porridge. Oats are a great source of complex carbs and are a fitting replacement for those sugary cereals. The beta-glucans in oats may also help lower cholesterol if consumed daily. Around 3g is recommended alongside a balanced diet.

For a run-down of some healthy, high-carb energy-giving foods, check out What foods are high in carbs?

Last updated: 1 April 2020

Sources

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/why-we-need-to-eat-carbs/

https://www.thediabetescouncil.com
Nutrition