Thursday 27 October 2016

Why carbs don't make you fat

Bread is not the enemy and why only you can design the right diet for your body


We live in a world of extremes. This especially holds true when it comes to our diet. We are either all on board the dieting wagon or we are falling dramatically off it.

We are led to believe we must exceed the bounds of moderation and go to extreme measures to achieve best results.

The drastic results obtained from drastic dieting further compounds the notion that radical dieting is necessary. But (and this is a big 'but'), people fail to look beyond the diet. What happens when the inevitable ensues and we can no longer sustain it?

We fall off the wagon in spectacular style. But here's the thing, there is no wagon. There is a set of tracks. As long as we are striving to make progress in the direction of the tracks, then that's good enough.


Unfortunately, the dieting industry is one of the most unregulated in the world and is therefore riddled with lies and fallacies. It doesn't help matters that false information is so easily shared these days via social media, with many believing the lies are true just because they read it on the internet.

'Food fear' is becoming more and more common, with people saying things like "sugar is the devil", "carbohydrates make you fat", "protein makes you bulky", and "grains will kill you".

Vilifying foods is a big, big problem. It does not make people healthy, which is wholly ironic as that is what people are seeking to do in the first place. Instead, it can drive people away from having a healthy relationship with food.


In the last decade, people feared fat. Now we fear carbohydrates.

Carbs have been falsely vilified and called out for being a cause of weight gain and some diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. This has led people to believe that carbs are 'bad' and have developed a fear of eating them.

When are we going to learn that there is no black or white solution?

As with all foods, the poison is in the dose, and an excess of anything (including healthy fats) will make you fat, not just carbohydrates. It's actually quite entertaining how the topic of eating bread has become so controversial.

Shunning a whole food group is simply unsustainable. If you enjoy eating carbohydrates and you feel better when you include them in your diet, then continue to do so. Do not cut them from your diet just because the internet told you to do so.


Carbohydrates are abundant in most plant foods, especially fruits. They come in the form of simple sugars, such as table sugar, fruit, milk, and complex carbs (starches and fibre), such as those in vegetables, grains, and legumes. Unprocessed carbohydrates are preferred over-processed/refined ones, most of the time.

The primary function of carbs in the body is to provide us with energy, especially during high-intensity exercise, where eating sufficient amounts helps prevent muscle breakdown.

The brain also depends on carbohydrates for energy. Hence, some folks experience symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, dizziness, poor concentration, and irritability as the brain tries to adapt to using fat as fuel instead.

In addition, minimally processed carbohydrates are very satisfying and provide a feeling of fullness when we eat. If we feel fuller for longer then we will eat less overall. Therefore, eating carbs can ironically help us to lose weight.

Not to mention that carbs are an excellent source of fibre. Getting enough fibre in our diets in the form of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, is essential for achieving optimal health, preventing diseases, and keeping the plumbing in good working order.


Food is, and should be, a pleasurable experience and we should all enjoy some fun foods from time to time. Having a fear of food takes away from this and can provoke feelings of guilt, which is not healthy.

Context matters. If your eating behaviours and food choices have been positive overall (ie. plenty of whole and minimally processed foods), then there is absolutely room to include fun foods, regardless of their nutrient-less status.

Allowing yourself occasional treats, including sugary ones, is ultimately what makes any diet sustainable in the long-term, and you are more likely to stick to your diet if you enjoy to eat that way.


No carb diets are impractical, boring, and stressful for most. In saying that, there is no one universal way of eating that will suit everyone, so find what works for you and stick with it.

Practice personal preference when it comes to your diet and above all else, practice moderation. Retrain your brain and overcome your fear of carbs to find balance in a world of extremes.

You'll be healthier and happier as a result.

Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs monthly online group nutrition coaching programmes and hosts nutrition seminars around the country. See www.thenutcoach.com

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