Low carb, low fat, no fruit, only fruit — sometimes it feels like every time we read the news, someone is telling us about a new thing we definitely should not be eating.
Because restrictive diets are in the spotlight at the moment, we asked Monique Piderit, spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, why we should be eating carbohydrates. The organisation shares some very compelling reasons to eat good carbs.
1. Daily activity
Our bodies rely on a combination of nutrients to fuel our daily activities. Cutting out carbohydrates completely may zap your energy levels, leave you feeling fatigued and maybe even a little cranky. The body burns other sources of energy when you don’t consume enough carbohydrates (like muscle and fat), and this can have other unpleasant effects such as bad breath and headaches.
2. Building muscle
If your diet is too low in energy from restricting carbohydrates, your body may start to break down protein for energy in a process called gluconeogenesis. When the body uses protein for energy, the amino acids from these proteins can’t be used to build muscle (or support other functions, like a healthy immune system). If you’re training to gain muscle mass especially, it is essential to include carbs and protein in your diet.
3. Fibre and gut health
Fruit, some vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and wholegrain starches like oats, wild rice, and whole-wheat pasta, all contain carbohydrates and are rich in fibre. Fibre acts like a broom and sweeps the gut clean, helping to manage constipation, haemorrhoids and other intestinal problems. Research has even shown that a high fibre diet may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
4. Nutrients lost
Consuming a super low-carbohydrate diet restricts your intake of most fruits, certain vegetables and wholegrains. These foods are also high in B-vitamins (thiamine, folate, niacin), vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium, as well as other nutrients found in carbohydrate-rich foods. This can result in a diet that is too low in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
5. Be careful of overly dull and restrictive diets
According to Dr David Katz, Associate Professor of Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine, “Everything from lentils to lollipops contain carbohydrates. Most foods contain carbohydrates, so when carbs are restricted, the decrease in variety may cause boredom and monotony in meals, which may not be sustainable in the long run.”
Now that we’ve clarified the benefits of certain carbohydrate-containing foods, it’s important to remember that not all carbs are created equal. Highly processed, convenience foods are often very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and it’s always better to rather consume ‘good carbs’ that are nutrient dense, high in fibre and as close to their natural state as possible.
If you need more information and would like to consult a dietitian, visit the ADSA website and find a dietitian near you.