“My weight loss has stopped. I don’t understand, I’m eating less than 30 grams of carbs per day!”
... she said to me, as desperate for understanding as she was for progress.
“You need to eat more carbs. If you stay within your daily allowance, you will be fine, I promise!” I responded.
“Okay…” She responded hesitantly.
Thank goodness she trusted me and the advice I gave her! Within the week she had returned to her normal carb count, and was back on track to losing weight. At our next weigh-in session, the relief and happiness that came with her weight loss was more than evident on her face and in her voice.
For our first Macronutrient blog of the series, we’ll be taking a look at carbohydrates! Yes, we will look at everyone’s favourite macro to vilify ;)
So, what is a carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates come in a few different forms. But basically, a carbohydrate is a molecule that your body instantly recognises as fuel. Fuelling your body is the carb’s sole purpose in life.
We're about to get a tiny bit technical, so if you don't like basic chemistry or big words, feel free to scroll down to the next heading called "Why Do People Hate Carbs?"
A carbohydrate is a simple molecule of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are “simple” carbs, and “complex” carbs, known as Monosaccharides, Disaccharides, and Polysaccharides, depending on how many carb molecules are joined together.
The simpler carbs (a.k.a Monosaccharide and Disaccharide) are either a single molecule or a small chain of two molecules joined together. A complex carb (a.k.a Polysaccharide) is a longer chain of three or more carb molecules connected together. Simple carbs are very easy to digest and will often give you a quick hit of energy, whereas your complex carbs are responsible for a more sustained release of longer-term energy due to the longer chain of molecules taking longer to digest.
The most common of the simple “Monosaccharide” carbs is called “Glucose.” You’ve heard of that one I’m sure! It’s the name of our blood sugar molecule.
The second form is called “Fructose.” Fructose is the sugar that is found in plants and is what gives fruit it’s lovely sweetness :) Fructose often gets a bad rap, but I’d like to challenge that (more on that later too!).
The third form of simple carbs we will discuss today is “Galactose.” This is the sugar found in milk! Who would have thought that milk had natural sugars in it, right? #FunFact: “Lactose” is actually a Disaccharide, made of one glucose and one galactose molecule joined together.
I won’t go into the more complex forms of carbs, because I’m pretty sure you don’t care that much about the technicalities of it all. If you do care, feel free to google it :)
Why do people hate carbs?
Generally, people hate carbs because of what they see in magazines and on social media. There isn't much real education in these sources, and the information is often biased or unbalanced.
People hear of their friends and family members successes with low carb diets and come to the conclusion that it must all be carb’s fault, otherwise, why would you cut right back on them? But carbs are our misunderstood friends, who only want good things for us and will give us everything we need if we learn how to use them correctly.
“Everything in moderation.”
You’ve heard of that, right? The thing is, as a society, we actually do a really, really bad job at doing moderation correctly! No offence, because I’m sure you do your absolute best (and I commend you for that, because it is hard!), but we just are!
Our society has become so focused on rich, delicious meals that are phenomenal experiences for the lips but the worst experiences for the hips. Our meals serve our senses but not necessarily our bodies. With the rise in reality TV shows such as MasterChef, The Great British Bake Off, and so on, we are being subconsciously programmed to give ourselves and our families meals that are simply, excessive. I don’t want to sound like a kill-joy, but it’s true.
As a rule, a good amount of carbs per day is to eat enough fruits, vegetables and salads to give you somewhere between 100-200 grams of carbs per day. This amount will vary per person, depending on your activity levels, body type, and of course your goals too!
Remember that some people can naturally stay leaner despite eating loads of carbs, and other people’s bodies have a tendency to gain when they eat too many carbs. It’s something that you need to take time with and see what your body works best with. Let me say it again: you will need to take time. Be patient. Unfortunately our bodies don’t do things as instantly as we want it to! A little bit of patience now will pay off in the long run.
What are the best carbs to eat?
I normally say “if it comes from a plant, you’re good”, but all carbs come from plants! So let’s rephrase that to: “if your carbs come from a packet, proceed with caution.” Generally speaking, processed foods will be higher in carbs (and therefore higher in calories too), which will make it way too easy to go over your daily carb “budget.”
When you have your dinner plate in front of you, imagine it is divided into quarters. Load up one quarter of your plate with vegetables. Peas, green beans, asparagus, broccoli, capsicum, carrots… the list goes on! Eat those rainbow foods! Yes they have carbs, but the carb count is lower than you’d expect and you’re getting sooo many vitamins at the same time, so munch away!
In another quarter of the dinner plate, you’re going to have salad. All kinds of lettuce varieties, tomatoes, cucumber, etc. Once again, high in nutrients, lower in carbs. Load ‘em up! Just don’t go too crazy on the dressing ;)
In another quarter of your dinner plate, you’ll have your starchy carbs. Depending on your body type, and depending on your goals, you may have to skip these at dinner time. But for information’s sake, let’s include them. Starchy carbs are foods such as potatoes, pumpkin, turnips, sweet corn etc. It also includes rice and pasta, but proceed with caution when it comes to rice and pasta, because they are definitely higher in carbs and are more likely to put you over your daily quota. If you are going to include the starchy vegetables, you really only need one small potato (and I mean small), and maybe a few small pieces of pumpkin to make up your serving size. Remember, starchy foods may be higher in carbs, but they still have nutrients and fibre. They are okay to eat in moderation.
What about fruit?
I like to call fruit “nature’s candy.” Because, it is! While I love treats such as ice cream and chocolate, having fruit instead gives us more bang for our carbohydrate buck. We get the sweet taste we crave, without the guilt that comes with eating ice cream and chocolate. Plus, we get a whole host of vitamins and phytonutrients too! Oh, and of course fibre :)
Once again, depending on your goals, it may not be wise to eat loads of fruit at certain times of the day, but we should definitely not exclude fruit from our diet. I love to get my fruit in at breakfast time in the form of a smoothie. It gives me energy and nutrients to start the day, and because of the water content in my smoothie I get a good hit of hydration too! Try a smoothie that includes bananas, berries, and mangoes, you’ll love it! (Handy hint: if your smoothie includes milk and ice cream, it's not a smoothie. That's a milk shake, sorry!)
In summary, we absolutely should not be scared to eat carbs. Not all carbs are the enemy! Fruits, vegetables and salads will help you become healthier, with the energy you need to make the most of your daily life :)