Carbohydrates seem to be going the same way as fats did. They are becoming frowned at due to their obesity link, say some health experts.
The reduction or complete elimination of carbohydrates is a core part of several weight-loss diet programs. These constituents of foods such as sugar, bread, pasta and rice, are being blamed for the obesity crisis.
However, in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) recommends eating plenty of potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, with some milk and dairy foods, although in low-fat options.
This recommendation is at odds with what health experts are now saying: we should now eat fewer carbohydrates.
Potatoes, bread, rice and pasta contain ‘complex carbs’ such as starch. These carbs break down quickly in the gut into sugars such as glucose, which force the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin. Too much insulin causes ‘insulin resistance’, which underlies obesity.
Also at odds with the latest thinking is the NHS’s continued recommendation to consume low-fat milk and dairy food rather than whole milk and butter.
We now have proof that natural ‘saturated’ fats in non-processed dairy products are not to blame for today’s health problems.
In 1991, the official advice in the UK was to increase carbohydrate consumption so that it provides 50 per cent of food energy.
The thinking behind this was partly to make up for the energy gap caused by reducing the recommended amount of fat in the diet to 35 per cent. How bizarre.
However, we are now beginning to accept the fact that eating more carbohydrates has actually caused the big rise in levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
For years now we have all increased our consumption of refined carbohydrates and oils. These are foods made of white flour, of sugars, white bread, sugary cereals, cakes, biscuits and cooking oils. That is how the ‘hidden’ sugars and unsaturated fats have found their way into our bodies.
Refined carbohydrates are digested quickly, and as mentioned above, lead to surges in blood sugar levels and therefore harmful insulin spikes.
A couple of studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that in order to avoid obesity, heart problems and diabetes, we ought to abandon low-fat diet plans. Instead, we should go for diets that are ‘low’ in carbohydrates.
But it is not that straightforward. All dietitians point out that a ‘balanced’ diet is crucial to health. This must include ‘carbohydrates’, but only those that are packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
These carbohydrates occur in fresh fruits and vegetables. They are slowly broken down in the gut and therefore do not cause insulin spikes. These are the ‘good’ carbs that most people shun in favour of harmful, processed convenience foods.
So demonizing all carbohydrates is completely counter-productive.
Unrefined, whole grain carbohydrates such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, and whole grain cereals contain ‘healthy’ carbohydrates, too. They do not cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly because they are slow to digest.