“Don’t eat too many carbs”
“Low carb diets could shorten your life”
“Don’t eat carbs after 3pm”
“Eating carbs makes you fat”
“Carbs cause type 2 diabetes”
“Grains cause inflammation”
And the list goes on. There’s plenty of negative press about carbs so let’s clear the air and sort this out once and for all.
Last year in 2018, a large-scale, two-part study now published in The Lancet Public Health journal examined the effects of high, moderate, and low carbohydrate intake on mortality risk.
The researchers concluded that both low and high carbohydrate diets might be associated with a shorter overall lifespan.
So, with regards to public health recommendations, we should be gunning for not high, not low, but moderate amounts of carbohydrate. No need to be afraid of bread, rice and pasta right?
However, if your health dashboard is lighting up (e.g. high blood glucose levels, high cholesterol & triglycerides, fatty liver etc…), or you’re suffering from an autoimmune disease, a mental health condition or something else, sometimes, under the guidance of a dietitian and/or doctor, a low carb diet might just be the thing you need to improve your health.
If the research is saying that low carb diets may be associated with an overall shorter lifespan, then we really should take note of this. Do we need to go so gung-ho on low carb, or would it be better to take a more conservative approach, still following a lowish carb meal pattern, but one that delivers a more appropriate amount of carb, focusing on carb quality?
I think you all know what the answer is. It really depends on the individual’s personal circumstances.
It’s about weighing up the need to go low carb vs the potential consequences of the approach.
For example, if person x weighs 150 kgs, they’re living with type 2 diabetes and they have poorly controlled blood glucose levels, perhaps a very low carb diet would be the most appropriate approach for that person. At least in the short-term under the guidance of a health professional.
Conversely, if person y's health dashboard is in the black and they’re a little overweight, taking extreme action on a very low carb diet isn’t worth the risk. One very clear risk is the reduction in fibre and fibre variety on a very low carb approach. Cutting out nutrient-rich foods including wholegrains, legumes, certain vegetables and fruit won’t do your gut health any favours. And as we’re starting to learn, our gut health has a big say in how healthy we are in mind and body.
To maintain a healthy gut, it’s best to focus on a variety of different fibre types. Something from each fibre category - soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. See examples below.
As you can see, most of the fibre examples above are rich in carbs.
For many of my patients, I might recommend rotating some of the following high fibre carb portions through their weekly meal pattern. Of course, the below may be altered to suit those on a gluten restriction, following a low FODMAP diet and other individual requirements.
Brown or white basmati rice (2/3 cup cooked or ¼ of your plate)
Wholemeal/high fibre pasta (2/3 cup cooked or ¼ of your plate)
Quinoa (2/3 cup cooked or ¼ of your plate)
Sunsol Almond, Walnut etc… muesli (1/2 cup) - http://www.sunsol.com.au/products/10-muesli/nut-lovers-blend
Starchy veggies (potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, corn - equivalent size of a medium potato)
Legumes (e.g. chickpeas) - 200g
Piece of fruit as a snack
Wheat, oat, rice brans – ½ cup
Popcorn (homemade using EVOO) – 2 cups popped)
Pearled barley (2/3 cup cooked or ¼ of your plate)
Oats (preferably steel cut) – ½ cup
I also determine carb portion sizes and frequency depending on their personal circumstances.
Is their health dashboard lighting up? How many lights are flashing? What lights are flashing?
Do they exercise? At what frequency, intensity and duration?
Do they eat 3 meals per day?
Do they have a partner/kids?
How often do they eat out?
Are they already restricted with what they can eat e.g. food aversions, allergies, intolerance's?
To be honest, most of the time my patients aren’t eating McDonald's, drinking excessive amounts of Coca Cola and knocking down packet after packet of Smiths chips. It's more that they don't eat enough fibre/fibre variety, choosing to eat large portions of more refined carbs, not enough veggies and/or loading up on protein.
To put it simply, they’ve just got the plate proportions out of whack and that adds up over time. It’s like when a boat changes course by a couple of degrees, sails for 4 hours and ends up in a completely different location, far from where it initially planned to go. The same can be said for our health based on what we normally eat.
The take home
Be strategic with your carb intake. Choose from the high fibre varieties listed above based on your unique circumstances.
For more information, or to book in for some guidance on your eating pattern, please click here.