The internet is full of sites which state categorically that either “Carbs are good” or “Carbs are bad”.
Clearly someone has got it wrong somewhere, but who?
The truth is that when it comes to nutrition, there are rarely straight-forward and simple answers, and in fact both sides are right, and both are wrong…
Whether a certain food is right for you, depends upon your goals, your lifestyle, your personal tastes, and many other variables.
Carbs = Energy
Carbohydrate is stored energy, primarily found in fruits, vegetables and grains.
Plants take energy from the sun, and convert it into stored sugars and starches, which our body can then burn for fuel to power physical activity, keep your heart and organs working, and your brain whirring.
Carbohydrate is a high performance fuel. Though it contains less than half the calories per gram as fat (4 as opposed to 9), your body can liberate this energy considerably faster, so it is much better for high intensity activities.
While it is possible to adapt to a low carb diet, and still partake in high intensity or long duration endurance activities, it is far from optimum.
So as an energy source, carbs are great – But only if you need that energy…
Body Fat is Stored Energy
If you are supplying your body with an easy to burn, high-octane fuel, your body is going to burn that instead of tapping into your fat stores.
Lots of carbs = lots of calories. Eat more calories than you expend, and you not only won’t burn the excess fat you are already storing, you also run the risk of converting the extra carb calories into more body fat.
Veggies for Fat-Loss
If your goal is to lose some body fat, when it comes to carbohydrate foods, you are best sticking to fibrous veggies.
This is not because “carbs are bad” but simply because veggies are lower in calories than starchier or sugary carbs such as bread, pasta, rice, pastries and sweets.
The fiber in vegetables will help keep you feeling full, and they are packed with vitamins and minerals which are essential for a healthy body.
Whatever meal you’d normally make, simply replace the starchy carbs you’d usually eat with an extra portion of veg instead. I.e. if you were going to have spaghetti Bolognese, have a big pile of steamed broccoli in place of the pasta, if you were going to have a tuna sandwich, have a tuna salad instead, etc.
It’s pretty much impossible to overeat vegetables, so if you’re worried about being hungry, replace the starchy foods with a double portion of veg, though you’ll more than likely find the veg more filling, not less!
The Starchy Carb Continum
Plant foods are not only a source of carbohydrates, but also a potential source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Check the categories below to help decide which carbohydrate foods are best for your needs.
- Fibrous Vegetables
Examples: Onions, Carrots, broccoli, Spinach, Courgette, Aubergine, Peas, etc.
These foods are high in essential nutrients and fiber, and relatively low in carbohydrate, and therefore calories.
Regardless of your goals, you should aim to eat as much of these foods as possible.
The government recommend eating 5 portions per day, but the research actually indicates more is better. 5 portions should be an absolute minimum.
- Starchy Vegetables
Examples: Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Yams
There are many who believe that these foods are fattening. The evidence points to the contrary however. Baked and boiled potatoes have been found to be strongly associated with good health and bodyweight.
Be warned however, this was only when they were baked or boiled. If you smother them in high calorie sauces or fats, or make them into chips or crisps, they become strongly associated with poor health and weight gain!
- Beans and Legumes
Examples: Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas
These foods are fairly high fiber, fairly nutritious and moderately high in carbohydrates. Because of all the fiber, and relatively high protein levels for a plant food, these foods keep you feeling full for a long time.
Soaking, slow-cooking and fermenting beans and legumes increases their digestibility, makes the vitamins and minerals they contain more bioavailable, and can help reduce the “side effects” for which these foods are renowned…
These foods can be a good choice for people who want to shed body fat.
- Properly Prepared Wholegrains
Examples: Wholegrain Sourdough Breads, Properly Prepared Porridge and Mueslis
I used to recommend everyone try cutting out bread and wheat products.
In retrospect, for most people this is probably not necessary. Yes, some people have bad reactions to wheat products, and they should avoid them, but it is probably only around 1 in 10 people at most.
There are also lots of people with serious allergies to eggs, fish, nuts and lots of other foods, this doesn’t mean everyone must cut them out!
Proper bread – i.e. that made with wholegrains, and fermented for at least 24 hours, can be a tasty and nutritious food, particularly if you don’t want to lose weight, and are highly active.
Porridge is another food which has been shown to be associated with good health and weight maintenance. Low in calories and filling. Though be careful – check out the low-down on porridge here.
- Rice, Pasta and Couscous
These foods are energy dense, and nutrient sparse.
For highly active people such as endurance athletes, or people looking to add muscle (and training accordingly), they can be a good option.
There is little difference nutritionally between the wholegrain or refined varieties, so choose whichever your prefer.
If your goal is weight-loss, or you do not have a particularly active lifestyle, it is better to avoid these foods.
- White Bread and pastries
High in calories, zero nutrition and not very satiating, unless you’re in training for the Tour de France or an Ultramarathon, and struggle to consume enough calories, white bread and pastries are best avoided, save for the occasional treat.
Using the Continum
The key to long-term dieting success is flexibility and adaptability. There is no single diet which will work for all people, all of the time.
If you are wanting to lose body fat, start by cutting out white bread, pastries, pasta, rice and couscous and see what effect that has. If that works for you, great, if you’re not satisfied with the results try cutting down on the other groups too (with the exception of vegetables of course, which you should increase in their place).
If you are training hard, fairly active and want to increase performance and/or add lean muscle, try gradually adding more starchy carbs from higher up the list. Listen to your body, however, don’t over do it, and it’s probably best to keep pasta and rice to post workout meals only.
If you are mega active, and doing several hours of hard training/activity per day, then you may actually want to cut out foods from the middle of the list (beans, legumes and wholegrains) in favour of more rice and pasta, in order to ensure you get enough carbohydrate to fuel your performance and recovery. Don’t make the mistake of skipping the vegetables however, as you still need to make sure you get all your vitamins and nutrients.
hopefully you’ve already started to look and feel better after implementing the first 2 weeks from the Eat Primal 5 WC, and you’ve not found it too much of a struggle.
The key is to keep going with it, and if at any point you do “fall off the wagon”, don’t worry about it, that’s perfectly normal. Just get back on, and keep going.
Please post below in the comments section any questions related to carbohydrates and/or your own personal experiences, we’d love to hear from you!