Carbohydrates get such a bad rap but they are absolutely essential to good health. Low carb diets will offer short term weight loss but long term it will wreak havoc with your body. A carbohydrate is simply any food that contains glucose. It could be almost entirely glucose, or it may contain glucose and other nutrients. The easiest way to define a carbohydrate is that ‘it doesn’t have a face’. In other words, it’s grown in or on the soil and doesn’t come from animals. Years ago, carbohydrates were defined as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ – this simply referred to the size of the molecules. Carbohydrates as a food group contain many different substances, including:

Fructose (fruit sugar)

When we talk about carbohydrates we usually think first of glucose and ‘sugar’ and we need glucose in our body but it’s essential to maintain the right blood glucose levels.

There are two main kinds of sugar (although technically anything that ends in “ose” is a sugar) we will focus on glucose, which is an immediately usable form of energy – and fructose (fruit sugar) – which has to be taken to the liver and converted to glucose before it can be used for energy. This is a crucial difference, because glucose raises blood sugar instantly and fructose has a more moderate effect.

When your blood sugar i.e. glucose levels are too high, the excess is converted to body fat. When your fructose levels are too high, because fructose in processed in the liver, it creates fatty deposits inside the liver. Eating foods with added fructose can raise levels above normal, but the fructose you eat direct from fruit will not cause this as part of a healthy diet. The problem arises when it’s added to refined foods. We are perfectly capable of digesting fructose, especially as it is combined with other nutrients and fibre, meaning it takes longer to reach the liver than glucose which can be absorbed instantly into the blood stream from the tongue.

Providing you eat low GI foods you can eat more food in terms of weight and actually eat fewer calories. However, because it’s so easy to overeat refined, fat-free or fat-reduced foods, you can easily eat twice as much as you would do if the food contained fat. This is why so many people struggle to lose weight on the low-fat diet.

I can’t tell you how many food diaries I have seen over the years that were virtually fat free, but where the individual was eating so much fat-free food that they overcompensated for the fat calories they had removed with starchy carbohydrates or sugars. They would have a huge plate of pasta with only a tiny amount of Bolognese sauce because they saw the pasta as fat-free therefore not fattening. They also were told by certain slimming clubs to eat meringues which are almost 100% sugar, as they were “low fat”

They ate so much fat-free pasta, rice, and bread (without butter!) and sugary foods that it caused a massive glucose spike and their bodies released extra insulin to convert the excess to fat. They got fat without even eating fat! Although ironically, they thought they were “being good”.

The carbs that you need to fill up with are vegetables and some fruits which will give you a high nutritional content (including antioxidants) and good levels of fibre. You also need to choose good quality starchy carbohydrates such as grains, pasta, bread, rice, cereals, etc. that have plenty of fibre which will aid transit time, i.e. the time it takes for a food to get from your mouth, have the nutrients extracted and pass out the other end.

Slow transit time is a sign of a poor digestive system. I often ask clients how often the open their bowels and they say, “Regular as clockwork – once or twice” I say, “That’s great, twice per day?” and they say “No – once or twice per week”. They then proceed to tell me their doctor tells them this is normal. It might be normal but it’s certainly not desirable! You should open your bowels every day, more than once. If you are putting three meals in, you need to get three meals out with the nutrients removed. If you are not, then this must be addressed. You will find that when you open your bowels more, you will be losing weight. Fibrous vegetables include prebiotics (important to help maintain healthy gut bacteria). A low carb diet excludes many foods high in fibre, yet another reason to avoid it.