Many low-carb diets promise instant weight loss, but Dr Sally Norton explains it’s the type of carbohydrates you eat that counts.
We know that a balanced diet is the key to a healthy body, but with the constant barrage of new studies and research, it can be tough knowing exactly which foods are the healthiest for us.
One food group that has been given a pretty bad rep over the past few years is carbohydrates. The common perception now is that the fewer carbs we eat, the better, with some of us avoiding carbs altogether. But is this really a healthy option?
NHS weight loss and health consultant surgeon Dr Sally Norton gives us the lowdown on carbs:
Should we skip carbs altogether?
Well, frankly, no. Of course, we know that starchy, refined carbs aren’t great for us – and we do eat far too much of them, so cutting back is definitely a good thing. But cutting carbs out altogether?
Carbs can help us feel full and provide us with a lot of healthy nutrients and essential fibre – we just need to make sure we are eating the right sort. Vegetables are a great source, and another particular group that is getting seriously neglected is wholegrains.
Carbs can help us feel full and provide us with a lot of healthy nutrients and essential fibre.
A study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that 80 per cent of us are simply not eating a healthy level of wholegrains – and one in five may not be eating any at all! Not that I’m surprised, with so many people demonising all carbs, or, when they do indulge, choosing the more popular, starchy white carbs.
Why we should eat wholegrains
Grains are made up of an inedible, protective husk and a kernel which has three layers – bran, germ and endosperm. Wholegrains contain all three parts of the kernel – and so keep the maximum nutrients.
Processing these grains to make refined carbohydrates means removing the bran and the germ, which contain a whole host of antioxidants, B vitamins, protein, minerals, healthy fats and fibre, leaving only the endosperm.
Refining means that about 25 per cent of protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. It is possible to add back some vitamins and minerals to enrich these refined grains. But why not stick to the unadulterated and healthier wholegrain in the first place?
What’s more, products made from refined white carbs are more likely to contain higher levels of fat and sugar, but, because they’re refined, they’re not as filling, meaning we eat larger portions in order to feel full.
Which doesn’t help our weight-loss attempts and explains why so many of us will feel bloated, or sluggish after eating a huge bowl of white pasta or rice. In contrast, wholegrains are higher in fibre – meaning we will feel fuller for longer, with smaller amounts.
Products made from refined white carbs are more likely to contain higher levels of fat and sugar.
Importantly, though, studies link wholegrains to all kinds of health benefits, including lower body weight, BMI and cholesterol levels, as well as reduced risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers too.
How many carbs should we eat?
The minimum recommended is 48g. This equates to the following:
- 3 slices of wholemeal bread.
- A bowl of porridge and a slice of wholemeal toast.
- A portion of whole grain rice/pasta/quinoa or other whole grains.
Swapping refined carbs for wholegrain ones is a great place to start and try to hit the 48g minimum if you can. Watch out though – some products might seem healthier than they actually are.
For example, the breads that are just coloured brown to make them look healthier, and seeded and malted loaves made from white flour with small amounts of bran added in afterwards.