With the rise and rise of the Atkins and Dukan diets, carbohydrates have been getting a bad rap for some years now. The truth is you can and should include carbs in your diet, even if you are trying to lose weight, but it may be that cutting down or eating the right carbs can help you to shed those unwanted extra pounds.
What are carbs?
Your body needs carbohydrates for energy. When you consume carbs, you body turns them into glucose, which fuels cells in the brain and muscles, among others. There are three types: sugar, starch and fibre. The sugar variety occurs naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, or is added to processed foods like sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks. Starch is found in edible plants, as is fibre, which can be found in vegetables, whole grains and pulses.
Carbs and weight gain
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are the culprits when it comes to weight gain, not fat. Because carbs are rapidly digested and quickly converted to blood glucose, when you eat a carb-heavy meal, the glucose in your bloodstream increases at a rapid rate. In turn this causes your pancreas to produce a large amount of insulin to remove the excess glucose, by converting into a starch - glycogen - which is stored in the liver and muscles. However, the body can only store a certain amount of glycogen, and any excess is instead stored as fat, hence the weight gain.
Eating too many carbs can also cause your blood glucose levels to crash to below normal levels, which makes you feel hungry and tempted to snack... and the circle begins again. As well as the weight gain, if your body continually produces high levels of insulin, you may become resistant, which could lead to type 2 diabetes as well as putting on weight.
How many carbs should I eat?
The Government's healthy eating guidelines recommend that a third of your diet should consist of starchy carbs such as bread, potatoes and pasta, and a further third of fruit and vegetables. However, if you are trying to lose weight, it may be that you need to cut a little from your daily intake.
For instance, reduce your consumption to 50 to 100 grams per day, largely consisting of plenty of fresh vegetables, two or three pieces of fruit each day, and a small amount of starchy carbs, and you should start to see the weight come off. If, on the other hand, you are seriously overweight or obese, a 20 to 50-gram per day plan may be necessary. Increase the number of low-carb veggies in your diet, like green leafy vegetables, and look for other healthy sources such as avocados, nuts and seeds.
Instead of cutting out the whole food group and missing out on some of the fabulous nutrients they provide, experiment with eating different types in different amount - you'll soon find the key to shifting that weight.
Not all carbs are equal
The no-carb diets insist that they are a dieter's sworn enemy, but cutting out whole food groups is not good for your health. If you're trying to lose weight, it's about reducing the bad ones and upping your intake of the good stuff.
Top of your list of diet downfalls should be the sugar variety. Sugars are 'empty calories', meaning they have no nutritional benefit. Furthermore, sugar causes a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to that release of insulin. And since the sugar 'rush' is quickly followed by the 'crash', you'll get hungry quickly and are more likely to overeat. So cut back on the sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks.
The carbs you do want are the high-fibre variety, such as vegetables, wholegrain foods and pulses, and that's because they release glucose more slowly than their sugary counterparts. You will feel fuller for longer, reducing the temptation to eat more, and will avoid that post sugar slump.
Products to help
In recent years, dieters have become increasingly keen on the likes of konjac to help with weight loss. This root, which grows in Asia, contains glucomannan, and studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have suggested that it can help to lower blood glucose levels, decrease 'bad' LDL cholesterol, and aid weight loss. It can be bought as a dietary supplement or in a dried flake form to be sprinkled on food.
You can also take advantage of very low-carb konjac alternatives to pasta, rice and noodles available at health food shops (including Holland & Barrett) and supermarkets - such as Eat Water Slim pasta, rice and noodles. Although they are pretty much tasteless, they hold sauces well and can help you feel full for very few calories.
Has a low-carb diet helped you to lose weight? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...