There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding carbohydrates and their role in a healthy diet. They’re subject to so much slander, it seems, that some women are choosing to avoid them completely. Whilst I don’t deny that low carb (even ketogenic) diets have their place in health/weight management, cutting out carbs unnecessarily could impact your well-being.
If you train regularly, then eating carbs as part of a balanced diet can positively impact athletic performance. High intensity exercise causes levels of glycogen (the body’s stored form of glucose) to deplete rapidly. Eating carbs replenishes these levels, helping to sustain muscle function. Therefore, this is especially important when planning your post-workout meal.
Carbs also form an important part in the production of serotonin – a neurotransmitter often dubbed the ‘happy hormone’. This helps to regulate sleep patterns, appetite, sex drive and mood, thus reducing carbs has been shown to affect sleeping patterns, libido and emotional state. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for people following low carb diets to experience depression – especially during the first couple of weeks. Carbs are called ‘comfort food’ for a reason!
Now, it’s important to note that not all carbs were created equal; I’m not suggesting that you start freely munching on toast, crisps and biscuits with reckless abandon! It’s important to choose complex or ‘slow-release’ carbs where possible, since these won’t cause a spike in blood glucose like ‘junk’ carbs will. Sweet potatoes, wholewheat pasta and brown rice are good sources. On the other hand, sugary and/or highly processed ‘junk’ foods should be avoided. These are just an empty source of calories that tend to cause fluctuations in blood glucose (and insulin levels), leading to weight gain and other complications, e.g. type 2 diabetes.
However, it’s suggested that a moderate intake of carbs might have the opposite effect; such is the case with the Mediterranean diet. This contains a substantial portion of carbohydrates, and even includes ‘white’ versions of pasta and other starchy foods, alongside whole grains, fish, vegetables, olive oil and red wine. Extensive studies indicate that the Mediterranean diet can support healthy body fat levels (as indicated by an ideal hip-to-waist ratio), and may be useful in helping to prevent obesity.
Whilst it’s important to get the balance right, it seems that fearing the ‘c’ word might be more of a hindrance than a help!
Luke Thornton is a personal trainer and health advisor at Discount Supplements