Since starting my first ever dietetics placement back in July it has been a complete 180 from my usual life and I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of data collection and assignments. I’ve now finished my community placement and just had my first day of food service placement. The world of dietetics is such an interesting one and whilst on my community placement, I was given the idea for this post.
I was working in an area centred around diabetes and appropriate management, so of course I was bound to be hearing a lot about carbohydrates and their importance in this condition. It seems like the only things I see or hear about carbs are the abundance of articles or blog posts that are advocating some ridiculous ideas. No carb (because they make you fat – of course), gluten-free and the oh-so-infamous paleo craze are some of many that I’ve heard.
With all these crazy theories clogging up social media, some people are set on believing that carbs are bad for us.
My theory is that many people actually don’t fully understand what carbohydrates are, or why they’re essential for our bodies and to our health. So, let me break it down for you.
What are carbohydrates and why do we need them?
To go right back to basics, a carbohydrate is a molecule made up of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen but, minus the sciency stuff, what this means for our body is that it’s our main energy source. Carbohydrate containing foods are broken down in the body into single glucose molecules and this is the only fuel source that supplies major organs in our bodies including the brain, central nervous system and kidneys. It is also supplied to cells and tissues and any excess glucose is stored in the liver. Basically, it’s essential to a healthy life.
Where can you find carbohydrates?
Some people are surprised by this one because people tend to immediately think of bread, rice, pasta and potato and that’s usually it, right? Wrong. Carbohydrates are found in any starch or sugar based food; so not only the bread, rice, pasta and potato based, but also fruit, beans and legumes, starchy vegetables, milk, nuts and foods containing added sugar (cakes, pastries, pies etc). Most of the above are healthy choices, just ensure you are aiming for choices such as grain bread over white, whole fruit instead of juices and low-fat milk.
Do carbs really make you gain weight?
Unfortunately there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this. According to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, carbohydrates should comprise 45-65% of the diet, or approximately 5 serves per day. Following this and the other guidelines (for protein, fat etc.) is a recommendation based on an average Australian male or female and should provide you with the essential nutrients your body requires. This being said, everyone’s body acts differently to food; people require different amounts and the types of food make a big difference. If you’re eating a few croissants for breakfast, pies for lunch followed by some cake and a big bowl of pasta for dinner, then most likely you’ll be gaining weight and also not receiving adequate nutrition. If you incorporate whole grains, legumes, fruit and veg you’ll certainly be getting a whack of vitamins and minerals and providing your body with enough energy to fuel you throughout the day.
Carbs are not the devil, as some may think and as I always like to say, everything in moderation is the key. Paleo, gluten-free and any other “fad diet” is unnecessary in my book. For more info on carbs, check out the DAA website, and if you have any issues or concerns about carbohydrates in your diet, it is always best to speak to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian.