Carbs: Are you getting them? Are they essential?
One of my clients, Stephen, was chatting with me about his nutrition and his Mum’s and how he was concerned that a Doctor had advised his Mum to follow a low carb diet to help her with her diabetes.
“But the thing is, I’m really worried that she’ not going to be getting enough carbs, because they’re essential right?”
The problem with many people is eating way too many carbs and also that so many are coming from processed, packaged food that have very little nutritional benefit and send you on a roller-coaster ride of sugar highs & lows.
So I explained to Stephen exactly why following the plan would be a great idea and what we should all be getting that is essential and what isn’t.
Essential Nutrient, what does that mean? It is a substance that must be obtained from the diet because the body cannot make it in sufficient quantity to meet its needs.
Categories of essential nutrient include vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids (protein). Our bodies are very clever and want to survive so we would be able to get our energy requirement from protein and fats.
Carbohydrates are a common source of energy in the western diet. However, no carbohydrate is an essential nutrient and many eat way too much in the form of simple and processed carbohydrates.
Much of the time, too many carbs are consumed at one sitting or many are eating the wrong type of carbs and this will lead to more fat storage.
We want to be avoiding bread, pasta, pastries, cakes, biscuits etc (simple carbs). Also, most foods high in simple carbohydrates contain few nutrients other than calories. Instead we should be choosing non-starchy veg (think leafy greens) and whole complex carbs. You should aim for clean, whole sources. A few examples are oats, sweet potato, quinoa, fruit, salad, carrots.
When you say ‘carbs’ may people think straight away about the typical bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes. But did you know you also get them from fruit & vegetables?
When I was doing one of my live Q&A’s with TARAnsformer Emma Stewart, I ran around my kitchen like supermarket sweep, grabbing lots of items to take photos of the nutrition labels to explain foods to her and she was shocked when I showed her the breakdown of some vegetables, like broccoli……they all had carbs. She was shocked! (The broccoli also has tonnes of other benefits with vitamins, minerals and fibre).
So what are complex carbs?
These digest slowly, so they keep blood sugar more stable than simple carbohydrates.
Whilst these will contain some naturally occurring simple carbs, they are low levels and aren’t harmful when you consider the other nutritional benefits such as the vitamins, minerals and fibre they provide.
They are more satisfying, and more health promoting.
They fill up our plate; fill our bellies and our cells with goodness.
Plant foods are full of phytonutrients (often called phytochemicals, meaning plant nutrients).
So like I said to Stephen and Emma, check out the nutrition label of an item. Whatever there’s the most of, that’s what you want to think of it as. Many foods are much more balanced than others and eating a variety of foods will help you to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition you need.
You should aim to include a variety of plant-based foods such as non-starchy vegetables and low sugar fruit, in your meals and snacks every day.
Like all the meals in my new recipe ‘Creative & Clean recipe eBook’ meals should be balanced, so fill up your plate with:
Lean protein (like chicken or fish),
Some healthy fats (like avocado or coconut oil) and
Pile the rest of your plate up with
Non-starchy veg (so they’ll have carbs but much less of them than the starchy ones and much more vitamins, minerals & fibre)
When it comes to nutrition, we all respond differently. Some of you may find you will get on really well with low carbs, others would need more.
Also, it depends how active you are as carbohydrates are a great source of fuel. After a training session, it’s a great time to refuel your muscles and cycling your carbs around training is a great way of ensuring your feeding your body and keeping energised.
Looking for fat loss?
For fat loss, you should always avoid consuming too many complex carbs per day, opt for non-starchy veg (broccoli, spinach, kale, sprouts, mushrooms) and eliminate simple carbs completely.
Even eating too many complex carbs (like too much fruit) will force your body to release a large amount of insulin to transport those carbs out of the bloodstream and into the cells of your body (as fat if there’s too much) to maintain a stable blood sugar level.
For muscle gain/lean mass, after a weight-training workout, your body will be desperately looking to replace the depleted energy (glycogen) stores in the muscle cells. If you consume lots of complex carbs right after your workout, those carbs will be shuttled directly into the muscle cells instead of the fat cells.
The depleted glycogen stores in your muscles will act like a sponge and soak up all those carbs into the muscle cells. The result will be bigger and fuller muscles with a much quicker recovery period. So carbs are great source of food after this type of training but still not essential, as our bodies will use fuel sources such as fats and proteins.
I hope this helps explain carbs a little better for you!
Keep fit & fab!