Another article popped up online recently, discussing low-carb, paleo diets. The title contained the words the ‘downside’ of carbohydrates – something that annoys me to read. It doesn’t make sense to say that nutrients have a downside. Anything can have a downside – what we need to look at is context. And, for nutrition, the context is our overall dietary pattern and a healthy relationship with food.
What do bananas, oats, lollies, kumara, biscuits, quinoa and white bread all have in common? They’re all foods high in carbohydrate. But they all vary considerably in terms of their nutrient density. It’s well known that some foods high in carbohydrate have beneficial nutritional properties. We can’t lump all foods in one basket, and sometimes talking about food in terms of macronutrients isn’t very useful. After all, we eat food, not individual nutrients!
Foods high in carbohydrates can have a positive impact on our nutrition and wellbeing, for instance:
• Carbohydrate foods provide dietary fibre. Wholegrains, legumes, fruit and vegetables all contain different types of dietary fibre and we know one of the best ways to maintain gut health is to have a diverse, varied diet. It’s possible that removing food groups will reduce the diversity of your gut bacteria, which could have consequences for well-being.
• Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the brain and muscles. While a low-carb, high-fat diet can increase your body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source, recent research shows there is a lack of evidence that this improves sports performance.
• Wholegrains are associated with positive health benefits, including reduced risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Our obsession with carbs vs fat isn’t helping us be healthier. While some people may feel better eating a lower carbohydrate diet, others feel great when they include foods high in carbohydrates.
Cutting out food groups can cause a negative relationship with food, particularly if it’s done with the aim of weight loss. Carbohydrate foods taste good and they add a different taste dimension to a meal. Most people enjoy carbohydrate foods and eliminating them can lead to a cycle of deprivation, guilt and binging – something I see regularly with clients.
At the end of the day, in my opinion, a healthy diet is one that nourishes your body with the nutrients it needs without making you anxious and stressed about food. Acknowledging we are all different and no food group is ‘bad’ is important for maintaining overall wellness, in terms of both body and mind.
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.