• Rebecca Watts

To Carb or nor to Carb

That is the question -

If you are thinking of lightening up and losing a few pounds the bottomline is that reducing carbs will likely help but ensuring your lifestyle is adequately fuelled can be tricky - here's the lowdown on carbohydrates.

The low down on carbs

What are they - Carbohydrates are 1 of the 3 types of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) found in food. Carbohydrates are our bodies main and often preferred source of energy as it is quick to convert.

Foods generally contain a mixture of the macronutrients but are often classified as a particular type due to the higher content. Carbohydrate based foods include vegetables, pasta, bread, rice, oats, pulse, beans.

How our bodies use them - in simple terms, once consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters the body's cells, with the help of insulin. Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen stores found in muscles and the liver. If more glucose is consumed than can be used, it is converted to fat for long term storage of energy. I

How does reducing carbs help you to lose weight / fat

Calories - just by cutting down on any food without replacing it, you are cutting down on calories

Fat storage - when we eat more carbs than our body can use, the excess gets stored as fat. Smaller portions = less excess = less storage

Water retention - your body uses approx 3 pound of water to process / store 1 pound of carbs, which generally means - more carbs eaten = more water stored. Reducing carbs can mean a drop in excess water and weight

Fat as a fuel - as carbs are easy for our body to convert, it will always use this supply first. When this supply is restricted our body turns to its fat supply for energy. By reducing the quick energy (carbs) your body should use more of its stored energy - your body fat.

However, cutting out a nutrient completely is never a good idea. Although you can use fat storage and protein for energy, cutting out carbs would likely leave you lacking fibre in your diet and struggling with energy levels.

Carbs are not the devil, if the right type of carbs are eaten to fuel your lifestyle and activity then they will help you achieve your goals whilst keeping your body functioning and energy levels up.

Fuelling your lifestyle

We are generally not active like we were as kids - Most of us sit all day. Thus often consume far more carbohydrates than our body can use. Remember unused glucose gets stored as fat so you are highly likely adding to your fat storage each meal. In general, most people can afford to cut their carbohydrate intake by at least 20%.

The Quality

Carbohydrates are often classified as simple or complex according to their structure and how quickly they break down into energy. Complex better for steady release, Simple, quick release triggering more of an insulin response and fat storage.

The Timing

The timing of carbs is not as simple as day or night, the key is when you need them. If you have just exercised or have had a busy day then your glycogen stores may be depleted - this is the perfect time to top up these stores, even if its in the evening. However, if you have been inactive and eaten carbs throughout the day, its unlikely they will need topping up. So eating a high carbohydrate meal in front of the TV - its likely you are just adding to your fat storage.

Think about your macronutrients - base your meal around protein and good fats and use your carb intake to fuel your lifestyle - use this quick guide to eating carbs to help.

Fibre Rich Carbohydrates

Type - Complex, High fibre - absorbed slowly

What - vegetables, some fruits (in moderation), legumes, beans

When - Often (especially vegetables), Anytime

Starchy Carbohydrates

Type - Complex (if wholegrains), dense sources of carbs.

What - pasta, oats, rice, potatoes, quinoa

When - within 3 hours of exercise when your muscles will use the carbs efficiently (or if have an very active job or lifestyle)

Refined Sugar Carbohydrates

Type - Simple, empty calories with little health benefits. Short lived energy boost.

What - desserts, sugary drinks and snacks, processed foods.

When - Rarely and only as a treat. Try and earn your treats through activity