Is it just me, or are all of the world’s most delicious foods carb-heavy? Pizza, pancakes, pasta, burgers… I could go on. But these same indulgent foods are the very reason that carbs have earned their reputation as the enemy. After all, scoffing a burger the size of your head doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with maintaining a toned bod (sadly). We’ve become such a carb-phobic society, it’s hard to believe not long ago they were considered an important part of a healthy diet! Before the days of the low-carb Atkins diet, grains were considered all the rage. Remember the colourful food pyramids they used to show you at school? Starchy foods like bread, cereal, rice and pasta were right down the bottom, with a recommended daily intake of 7 to 13 servings! Yep, it’s a far cry from the “carbs make you fat” mentality most people have today.
But the thing is, carbs don’t make you fat. Well, not necessarily anyway. We all know that eating too much of anything will eventually contribute to weight gain (unless it’s a negative kilojoule food like celery!) It’s consuming too much of the wrong type of carbs (think heavily-processed, empty carbs like chips and cookies) that usually packs on the kilos. But reaching for the right type of carbs is a vital part of having a balanced diet. Not only that, but they can actually help you reach your fitness and health goals!
Carbohydrates aren’t inherently fattening. You can eat carbs—lots of carbs!—and still be healthy. But most of the time, we reach our daily carb intake by snacking on processed foods that are high in sugar. When those types of foods make up the majority of a person’s diet, usually they’ll experience weight gain.
-Sporteluxe LA Editor and Qualified Nutritionist Michelle Pellizzon
So, what are the right types of carbs? Legumes, oats, wholegrains (like brown rice and quinoa) and nuts are all great, low-GI carb sources. Fruits and veggies also contain carbs, and we all know how important they are for your health! Generally speaking, carbs should make up around 45% of a moderately active woman’s food intake. That’s plenty of room for some carby goodness! Here’s why you should welcome carbs back into your life again with open arms.
1. They make you happier
It’s no secret that dining on an Italian feast with pals leads to some seriously good vibes. But there’s actually research to suggest that eating carbs can boost your mood! Ever encountered a friend or co-worker on a low-carb diet? Chances are, they weren’t exactly a barrel of laughs. A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who followed a very low-carb diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety, and anger than those on a higher carb diet. Scientists believe this is because carb-rich foods increase the amount of serotonin (the happy chemical) produced by the brain.
2. They make you smarter
If you’ve ever been on a low-carb diet, you’re probably familiar with the experience of ‘keto flu’. It’s when you’re body is adapting to your reduced carb intake and the symptoms include dizziness, fatigue and brain fog. While being in this mode usually means you’re burning fat, being a walking zombie isn’t really conducive to a productive day at work. Just like your body, your brain needs carbs for fuel. Not only is getting adequate carb intake essential for staying focused, it’s also important for your memory. A study from a Boston university showed that women on a low-carb diet for a week performed worse on a series of memory tests. So, if you want to smash your career goals and earn that promotion, better load up your plate with carbs!
3. They can help you lose weight
Yes, you read that right. While people may experience weight loss on a low-carb diet, it’s usually not sustainable long-term.
I would argue that if you want to experience meaningful, lasting weight loss you need to have carbohydrates in your diet! Eating fibre is incredibly helpful for helping maintain a healthy weight and for banishing excess inflammation (which can also cause weight gain). And guess where we get the majority of fibre? Carbs like legumes, oats, grains, and potatoes. Fruits and veggies also contain carbohydrates (and fibre!), and are key to weight loss because they encourage feelings of satiety and have tons of vitamins and nutrients.
-Sporteluxe LA Editor and Qualified Nutritionist Michelle Pelizzon
4. They give you energy
There’s a good reason athletes ‘carb-load’ before a big event. Carbs are your body’s main source of energy: we need them to function! Our body breaks them down and turns them into glucose. They’re then stored not only for immediate energy but also for future use. The extra sugar available from the glucose production is stored in your muscles, liver or other parts of the body. If this isn’t needed by your body for energy, this is later converted into fat: which is where you may run into weight gain. But if you live an active lifestyle and aren’t taking in more carbs than your body needs, it shouldn’t be a problem.
5. They’re good for your heart
We need to think about how foods contribute to our health, not just how our bodies look. Often, when people go on low-carb diets they start loading up on protein sources like meat to keep them full. While protein is essential for good health, excessive meat consumption can lead to increased cholesterol levels. This can contribute to heart disease later down the track. On the other hand, research shows that increasing your soluble fibre intake (found in carb-rich foods like legumes and beans ) by 5 to 10 grams each day could result in a 5 percent drop in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. Similarly, people who eat more whole grains (think brown rice and quinoa) also tend to have lower LDL cholesterol and higher ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
6. They can reduce bloating
Many people associate carb-heavy foods with a bloated, “No, I’m not pregnant” tummy. But remember the fibre we mentioned earlier, found in things like oats, grains and veggies? That’s how you reduce bloating! However, some high-fibre foods like beans and legumes can actually make you bloated, as can bread if you’re gluten sensitive. So, while we wouldn’t recommend tucking into a baked bean sandwich before you hit the beach, slow-release carbs like sweet potato or brown rice are usually safe options.
7. They keep you full
Another great thing about complex carbs is: they keep you full for longer! Gorging on simple carbs like cake or crackers may give you a temporary energy spike, then leave you ravenous later. On the other hand, low-GI carbs (when paired with fat and protein) should keep you nice and full, stopping you from snacking mindlessly between meals! Looking for a meal with the perfect combination of carbs, fat and protein? Check out our finger-licking good chicken salad recipe here.