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What you need to know about carbohydrates

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

Every day I consult with clients I can pretty much guarantee I will have at least one person tell me they avoid carbohydrates because they “make me fat” and then in the next breathe they tell me they are making poor food choices after dinner and have low energy levels. So, in my first blog post for WA Health Group I thought I would explain a bit about why we need carbohydrates and how to incorporate them into your diet.

So, first things first, what are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, or CHO as I will be referring to them, are a large group of compounds that are broken down, or digested in our bodies to produce glucose. Think of glucose as being the fuel for your car. Glucose provides energy to work our heart, lungs, muscles, brain and kidneys. Our brain relies predominately on glucose for energy to help us concentrate, think clearly and balance our mood, as well as power our muscles when exercising. The majority of my patients who tell me they are avoiding CHO because they “make me fat” also tell me their energy levels are much lower and they don’t have the same motivation they used to. If you have been paying attention you will see a bit of a pattern here…low CHO intake plus low energy levels and lack of motivation….I will leave that one with you!

Once I have explained a bit about CHO and why they are important to my client I then pose the question…You wouldn’t let the fuel in your car run out so why would you allow the fuel in your body to? This usually gets them thinking. Some come back and tell me their body will just burn fat, which in part is true, but I will leave that topic for another day. Other’s have a bit of a light bulb moment and realise they do need CHO, but are just unsure of which ones to choose. This leads me to the next bit of education I provide to them.

Firstly, CHO are not the bad guys, the incorrect type of CHO and the amount you eat are what make these guys turn ugly! So, what do I mean by ‘type’ of CHO? Well I can’t explain this without mentioning the term ‘glycaemic index’ or GI. GI is a way of comparing different CHO-containing foods based on how they affect your blood glucose levels (BGL). High GI CHO result in a rapid rise and decline in BGL compared to low GI CHO which cause a more gradual and longer lasting effect. Another feather in the hat of low GI CHO is that they also tend to be more satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer, which is great if you are looking to control your weight. Don’t know what foods are low GI? Think your Basmati rice instead of Jasmine rice or your wholegrain piece of bread instead of your white. Check out the ‘Glycaemic Index’ resource sheet in Patient Resources under ‘Dietetic resources’ for more information.

How much do I eat I hear you ask? Well the old saying ‘you can never have too much of a good thing’ is somewhat untrue when we are referring to CHO. Eating anything in excess, whether it be a CHO-containing or not is not recommended (with the exception of non-starchy vegetables because everyone can benefit from eating more veggies!). It may sound boring but all foods can be enjoyed in moderation including high GI foods, however we want to be consuming low GI varieties the majority of the time.

The specific amount each individual requires will depend on your activity levels and whether or not you have any chronic conditions, such as diabetes, that require a consistent intake of CHO. Generally speaking though, the CHO portion of your meal should only comprise about 25% of your plate (depending on your energy requirements), with 25% being filled by your protein and the remaining 50% consisting of your non-starchy vegetables. Remember CHO are an energy source, so if you are not expending a lot of energy your CHO requirement is going to be lower than the guy next to you who is about to go and run a marathon!!

If you are struggling with your weight or would like to learn a bit more about nutrition, give us a call at WA Health Group and book in for a consultation wtih a dietitian who will be more than happy to assist.

To book an appointment please call (08) 6162 2616 or click here to book online.

WA Health Group

Dietitian Team

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