Since qualifying in the field of nutrition nearly 20 years ago, there’s been one area that has always been surrounded by myths and pseudoscience. Given its January and many unqualified people are pushing the “keto” (very low-carb) diet, it seems carbohydrates are being shunned worse than ever. I hope the below provides some clarity about my favourite food group.
It would take forever to bust every myth surrounding carbohydrates, so let’s take a look at a few of the most common ones.
Carbohydrates are fattening…🙄
Carbs contain 4kcal per gram, whilst fat contains 9kcal per gram and alcohol 7kcal per gram. Whilst we still need to be mindful of portions, as anything in excess can lead to weight gain, it’s often the overzealous use of ingredients that accompany carbs; i.e. lots of butter/spread, a creamy or cheesy sauce, that is the ‘fattening/energy dense’ part.
Low-carb diets result in greater weight loss…😬
An in-depth review on the keto diet identified that adults lost only 0.9kg more at one year compared to a low fat diet (1). Furthermore the long-term compliance of these diets is very poor as they are difficult to maintain, making weight regain likely. Some argue they result in better initial weight loss but this is likely secondary to the way carbohydrates are stored in our bodies (alongside water), so initial weight loss is water loss and not fat loss (the stuff we want to lose). They can also lead, at least temporality, to headaches, weakness, nausea, irritability, constipation, diarrhoea💩 and bad breath (now who wants that?!).
Fruit is full of sugar…
All carbohydrates (except fibre - yep, also technically a carb) are broken down into sugar (glucose) by our body and used for fuel. The sugar found inside the cells of fruit should not be confused with that which we/manufactures add to food (see my blog on sugar for a bit more information). Fruit also contains a wealth of other beneficial nutrients and thus forms an important part of our diets.
Carbs are not an important part of our diet…🤥
Carbohydrates provide us with B vitamins, folic acid, iron, calcium and fibre, with unrefined versions (i.e. brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta) providing the most. Some research found that the more carbohydrates are restricted, the greater risk of an inadequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus (2). Fibre has a number of health benefits; helping to reduce the risk of constipation, cholesterol levels, colorectal cancer and heart disease and is becoming increasingly famous for its role in issues like mental health and immune function. For these reasons, it is recommended that adults consume 30g per day yet the average adult eats only 19g (3), so we actually need people to increase our intake, not decrease it by reducing carbs.
So to sum up, carbohydrates are an extremely important and beneficial part of a balanced diet but like everything we do need to consider type, quality and quantity. Fibre and its amazing health benefits are one key reason I would never recommend a low-carbohydrate diet to a healthy individual.
(1) PEN The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice 2019, Diet Composition - Ketogenic Diet
Summary of Recommendations and Evidence [online] viewed on 14/01/20 https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=25499&trid=27292&trcatid=42
(2) PEN The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice 2019, Diet Composition - Ketogenic Diet
Background [online] viewed on 14/01/20 https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=25499&trid=27298&trcatid=38
(3) Food Standards Agency and Public Health England 2018, National Diet and Nutrition Survey results from years 7 and 8 (combined): data tables Gov.uk [online] viewed on 14/01/20 https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/ndns-results-from-years-7-and-8-combined
*Disclaimer: All advice is general and intended for healthy individuals.