Friday, 13 July 2018

Carbohydrates - Should you cut them out?

Over the years I have all too often heard people say that they intend to cut carbohydrates from their diet to lose weight. This is generally a bad idea, whoever you are. From a nutritional perspective, what we should be more concerned with is the type of carbohydrate we consume and how much we have. After all, in your diet you should be consuming more carbohydrates than any other macro nutrient so it makes no sense at all to try and cut them out. 

So, what are carbohydrates and what do they do?
Carbohydrates are organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues including sugars, starch, and cellulose. Once consumed, carbs are broken down and stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Glycogen stores MUST be replenished every day to survive so quite literally don’t go starving yourself to death! As you exercise, your body uses up more glycogen and as a result, you need to replace the depleted stores by taking on board more carbs.                                                                                           
About a fifth of the body’s glycogen is stored in the liver and helps maintain blood sugar, an extremely important job! The other four fifths is stored in muscle cells and is used as energy fuel for physical activity. For someone who leads a relatively sedentary lifestyle or who trains at a low intensity for less than one hour per day, I would recommend 3-6 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight each day. (Serious athletes will require 7-12 grams per kg of body weight).  In both scenarios, this will be enough to fuel the body but prevent an excess fat gain. As activity levels and therefore energy requirements increase so does the carbohydrate requirement. Still think it’s a good idea to cut out carbs?!

So you can gain some perspective on the energy value in food I have listed the following average calories per gram in macro nutrients.

Carbohydrate = 4 calories
Protein = 4 calories
Fat = 9 calories
Alcohol = 7 calories (empty calories right?!)

Now, when it comes to (and I hate the word) “dieting”, yes it can be beneficial to reduce your carbohydrate intake if it is clearly too high. Another more precise approach I recommend is changing the type or source of your carbs which I will explain in a minute... 
Firstly a fun fact:

Did you know that for every gram of glycogen there are 3 grams of water attached to it? So in other words, suddenly reducing your carb intake will result in a loss of 3 grams of water for every one gram of carbohydrate. This means when you weigh yourself you have lost predominantly water weight and not body fat.   

Good Carbs vs bad carbs

Many of you would have heard of good and bad carbohydrates and categorising them can make it easier to distinguish which ones are healthy or unhealthy.

Simple = sugars (generally less healthy)
Complex = starches and fibers (generally good)

I would urge you not to rely solely on simple vs complex carbs when planning your food consumption as these ideas are a little dated and can be misleading. For example some foods such as biscuits, cakes and bananas contain both complex and simple carbs and natural sugars are healthier for you than processed ones.
A modern and very effective method to decipher the effects different foods will have on your blood sugar levels and therefore weight control and health is the Glycaemic index.

Glycaemic index

The glycaemic index ranks foods between 0 and 100 depending on their immediate effect on blood sugar levels (how quickly the body digests them and converts them into glucose). It is considered better to stick to low GI foods as these have less of an impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels therefore controlling and maintaining balanced levels. They take longer to break down and digest. High GI foods however will quickly spike blood sugar levels potentially leading to hyperglycemia. This is followed by a rapid dip in the blood sugars, causing light headedness, sickness, headache and irritation! For diabetics these symptoms can be much more severe and very dangerous.

Low GI = GI 0 – 55: Most fruits, pasta, grains, peas, beans, brown rice

Medium GI = GI 56 – 69: Rye crackers, cereals, couscous

High GI = GI 70 – 100: White bread, rice, cakes, sweet pastries 

Low GI foods help manage food cravings therefore promoting weight loss. They prevent energy dips, feelings of irritation and general hangriness!! They are also ideal for athletes as they improve endurance and delay fatigue. By contrast High GI foods have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and a wide variety of different cancers.

If you would like more information on healthy eating choices or an in depth diet analysis and eating plan please email me on

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