Carbohydrates are found in lots of different foods, in the form of sugar, starch and fibre. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about starchy carbohydrates; that’s potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals, bread etc.
Why eat carbs?
“I need to cut out bread”
“No carbs before Marbs”
“Carbs make me gain weight”
Any of these sound familiar? Starchy carbs get a bad reputation. The fact is, starchy carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, and if we cut them out we risk missing out on lots of nutritional benefits. Carbohydrates are what our body prefers to use as energy, and they also contain fibre and B-vitamins. If we can choose good quality carbohydrates and eat them in sensible amounts, they can help us feel fuller for longer, provide a good amount of fibre (for bowel health), help us manage our weight and reduce our cardiovascular disease risk.
What is a good quality carbohydrate?
Choosing wholegrain or higher fibre options will help with satiety (keep you feeling full). In the UK generally, we could all do with eating more fibre. Try wholewheat pasta or brown rice, and try to choose wholemeal breads. That’s not to say that there is anything ‘wrong’ with other carbs (white bread, white pasta, etc), they just don’t have all the same nutritional benefits. Try to choose higher fibre options most of the time, but white carbs are not evil either! With all carbs, be mindful about what you add to them and how much of them you have.
How much should I eat?
The Government’s Eatwell guide illustrates that just over a third of our diet should be made up of starchy carbs. I usually suggest that if we can think about including a portion of starchy carb at each meal, this is a practical way of ensuring we have enough.
So what is a portion?
How much an individual needs will vary from person to person. It also depends on your starting point of what a normal portion is for you! As a rough guide, 1-2 clenched fists would be a portion. If you are looking to reduce your carbohydrate intake, I would suggest you do it slowly, rather than a drastic change. Try to notice things like how full you feel, whether you feel satisfied on less or get hungry sooner after eating. Your body will tell you what feels right, try to notice the cues!
Note: there are some occasions where a low carbohydrate diet is medically indicated. If you have been advised to follow a low carbohydrate by a healthcare professional (and it is being supervised), you should continue to follow their individualised advice.