Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “Are carbohydrates bad for you?”. With so much conflicting information, the answer is not as simple as we would like it to be. So are they bad for you or not?

What are they?

Carbohydrates are a family of nutrients that provide the body with energy. In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. They include sugars, starches and fibre. Some examples of sugars include fruit sugars, table sugar, brown sugar, honey, golden syrup, glucose & lactose (sugar found in dairy).  The other types of carbohydrates includes any food that is made from grains or vegetables (rice, wheat, corn, barley, oats & potato) and include things like pasta, bread, rice, crackers, chips and breakfast cereals.

The type matters

Carbohydrates, as mentioned earlier, are the body’s primary energy source so we do need to eat them. We just need to eat the right type.

The ability to manufacture and process food, that occurred over the last half of the 20th century, has meant that Western diets have changed dramatically over the years. Highly processed foods are often very high in ‘refined’ carbohydrates and sugar and tend to be very low in fibre. These foods are generally high in energy and we easily overeat them.

This increase in processed foods is believed to be one contributor to the increase in overweight and obesity seen in modern Western cultures.

Research has shown that consumption of low fibre and high sugar diets are detrimental to long term health and with this research has followed a string of low-carbohydrate diets and weight loss treatments.

The right type

The right type of carbohydrate to be eating has had limited processing and is high in fibre. These foods include fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas etc), grains (oats, barley etc), nuts, seeds and pseudo grains (quinoa).

Foods that contain fibre are more filling, have a low glycemic index, keep blood sugar levels stable, are essential for good bowel health and reduce total cholesterol levels. In terms of preventing and treating  type 2 diabetes the type of carbohydrate consumed is very important. Research has shown that carbohydrate intake derived primarily from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are the best choice (Mann, 2007).

The above mentioned foods not only contain the appropriate type of carbohydrate but also contain other nutritional properties that are incredibly beneficial to our health such as folate, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Choose whole, fresh and unprocessed foods and you generally can’t go wrong. These foods will always be the best choice. Carbohydrates aren’t all bad and any information that you come across saying that they are is not very good advice. It’s all about balance and ensuring that your diet is characterised by healthy carbohydrates, rather than highly manufactured and processed ones.

If you would like more information and advice on how to construct a healthy meal take a look at this post, Techniques You Must Master to Construct a Healthy Meal.


Mix My Muesli

Breakfast is a major component of a healthy diet.

One a the best food choices to start your day is muesli. Packed full of nutrition muesli has a low GI (Glycemic Index), will keep you feeling full and satisfied for most of the morning and is a great source of soluble fibre.

Although I like muesli, I’m quite fussy about the ingredients and find it difficult to find a pre-mixed muesli that I like.

Mix My Muesli is a fantastic website where you can create your own muesli, just the way you like it and have it delivered to your door! It’s fantastic, comes fresh and tastes great! Check them out:


Fibre… Bowels of Fun for Everyone!

As a nutritionist I find bowel movements rather interesting. Not because I’m weird but because it can tell me quite a lot about how healthy your diet is and if you are eating well.

Your diet has the power to prevent you from developing a number of chronic diseases. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are the main ones. In terms of your digestive system, a healthy diet has the ability to help you maintain good digestive function and decrease your risk of diverticular disease and colon cancer.

So what’s the secret to a happy bottom? Fibre! Fibre only comes from plant based foods and is the indigestible part. That means that it goes right through you. You might be thinking, what’s the point if all it does is go in one end and out the other?

Fibre creates a nice bulky stool (poo!) and this helps the body to easily move toxins and carcinogens (cancer causing agents) out of the body. The longer is takes the body to move out the waste products the more time these toxins have in contact with the bowel wall and the more time they have to do damage. A high fibre diet moves undigested food through nice and quickly and thus ensures a healthy gut wall. You should have a B.E.E.P everyday.

The benefits of fibre don’t end there. Fibre also helps reduce cholesterol re-absorption, making it great for reducing your risk of heart disease. High fibre foods help us feel fuller for longer and have low energy density making them perfect for maintaining a healthy weight.

Choose these foods regularly for good digestive health:

  • Vegetables – Check out this post on how to get more vegetables into your day.
  • Fruit
  • Cereal – choose breakfast cereals that have at least 3g of fibre per serve. You can check this information on the nutrition information panel.
  • Wholemeal Bread – this has twice as much fibre as white bread. Rye Bread and Soy and Linseed are even better.
  • Wholemeal Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Legumes – beans, chick peas and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds – linseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

How’s your fibre intake?

9 Ways to Combat the Mid Afternoon Binge

Do you ever get to about four in the afternoon and feel tired, hungry and just generally low? Most of the time its because of poor eating habits earlier in the day that we find ourselves craving something sweet and fast! Here are 9 ways you can combat the urge to have an afternoon binge and pick up your energy levels all at the same time.

1. Snack Right
You feel hungry at four in the afternoon because its actually time to eat again. Depending on when you ate for lunch, its generally asking too much to not have something to eat until dinner time.  Low-fat yoghurts, a tin of flavoured tuna, a small handful of raw nuts, low fat cheese on a few rice crackers would all be low kilojoule choices that will curb your hunger until dinner time.

2. Have Protein at Lunch
A lot of the time people feel low in the afternoon because they have not had a substantial lunch. Protein (eggs, chicken, fish, meat, ham, yoghurt, cheese, tofu etc) that is low in fat will help you feel fuller for longer and give your body the energy and nutrition it needs to do all the things it has to do through out the day.

3. Don’t be afraid of Carbohydrates
The most important thing to remember here is the type. Refined carbohydrates (sugar, processed and manufactured foods) contain very little fibre. This makes them energy dense and we easily overeat them, and too much of most things is usually bad. Unrefined carbohydrates (wholegrain, wholemeal etc) contain plenty of fibre and fill you up much quicker. Choose wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, high fibre breakfast cereals, beans, legumes, lentils, fruits and vegetables.

4. Eat Breakfast
Give your body the fuel that it needs to function through out the day. If you don’t feed yourself properly you’ll naturally feel sluggish in the afternoon because your body has nothing substantial to run on. Resist the urge to walk out the door without a substantial breakfast. See my previous post What’s For Breakfast? 5 Fast, Easy and Nutritious Ideas.

5. Drink Lots of Water
Dehydration is a major cause of lethargy. Don’t trust your thirst signals, studies have shown this to be an inaccurate way of judging your hydration levels. You want to look for pale yellow urine and you  should be drinking at least 1 cup of water every hour you are awake. More if you are very active or breastfeeding.

6. Get Your Sneakers Out
It seems contradictory to say that exercising makes you feel more energetic, because you are expending energy to exercise, but its true. Physical activity makes you feel good, physically, emotionally and mentally. If you are not a regular exerciser, start out slow, just aim for one session a week. Don’t increase this goal until you have mastered it as part of your weekly routine. Maybe a month or so later add in a second weekly session and so on. Baby steps is the best way of creating long lasting habits.

7. Check Your Iron Levels
Women of child bearing age can be at risk of iron deficiency which can cause fatigue. Have your iron levels checked by your doctor and see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist to help you improve your iron status if it is poor. You can read my post on 3 Steps to Decrease Your Risk of Iron Deficiency for more information.

8. You Don’t Need a Stress Supplement
There are plenty of supplements on the market that claim to help with picking up your energy levels and people may or may not tell you that they feel better when taking them. The truth is, most of these products are just a cocktail of B Vitamins. These nutrients have a range of functions within the body, one of the most well known ones is in the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy. This might sound like taking these vitamins is a good thing, but in our culture the risk of any vitamin B deficiency is very rare as they are abundant in our food supply. Taking more than you need wont make you feel any better. You can read my post series on supplements for more information.

9. Caffeine is OK
Caffeine is a stimulant and a great way to pick up your energy levels. Nothing like a warm skim milk cappuccino to pick you up in the late afternoon. Not only is caffeine a stimulant it is also an appetite suppressant and can keep you in control of the munchies until dinner time. Just be mindful that too much of anything is not good and that caffeine is addictive. Any more that 4 caffeinated drinks a day is too much. Also stay clear of high energy drinks and soft drink as these contain too much sugar.

What things do you do throughout the day to help combat your afternoon slump? I’d love to hear your thoughts.