A common myth is that if you want to lose weight, ditch carbs, because, well, they make you fat.
Yet carbohydrates are a healthy and necessary part of any diet, according to registered dietician Monique Piderit, as they provide the body with the energy it needs and are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Piderit delved into the topic at a recent breakfast seminar hosted by Anchor Yeast.
However, she admitted, "not all carbs are created equal". Just like there are healthier fats that are best, there are better carbohydrate choices and less ideal choices, too.
Not all carbs are created equal.
Here's a simple guide based on Piderit's classification of good/low carbs and bad/high carbs.
"Healthier carbs are those in their whole form that undergo minimal processing, refining and milling. Consuming a diet rich in unrefined, wholegrain carbohydrates, like oats, brown or wild rice, quinoa and bread made from true wholewheat flour has many important benefits," said Piderit.
And one can't talk about good carbs without mentioning low-carb diets, which restrict carbs and allow only good carbs, while allowing for plenty of protein and fat.
A systematic review by South African researchers confirmed that low-carb diets and balanced diets both produced similar weight loss results, confirming that the amount of carbohydrate, fat and protein in a diet does not influence weight loss, only the total energy intake.
Sometimes referred to as refined carbohydrates, bad carbs include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice and other such foodstuffs.
Studies show that diets high in refined carbs are associated with health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
They tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which lead to crashes that can trigger hunger and cravings for more high-carb foods. They are also usually lacking in essential nutrients, in other words they feed our bodies only "empty" calories.
Don't demonise all carbs
Piderit said we shouldn't demonise all carbs as the health benefits of carbohydrates in your diet are numerous. Top of the list is the value of dietary fibre for gut health. When gut health is compromised, we can face major health consequences. Dietary fibre promotes a healthy gut by providing a food source for the healthy bacteria living in your gut.
Furthermore, while carbs have a bad reputation when it comes to losing weight, the contrary is true, said Piderit. For weight loss, a low-carb diet is just one way to control kilojoules and research has shown no overall benefit in the long term compared with following a moderate, nutritionally balanced diet. In fact, some carbohydrates can help prevent weight gain and even promote weight loss.
Sure, if eaten in unnecessarily large quantities, carbs could contribute to weight gain. But then again, so could too much of any food.
Aside from the nutritional value of carbohydrates in our diet, findings show that this nutrient group is kinder to our environment than other meal options. The carbon footprint of cereals and pulses, fruit and vegetables is significantly lower than that of beef, lamb and chicken.