'Eat Right' Challenge, Carbs - Day 1

Emma White - Nutritionist

What are carbs & why do we need them?

Carbohydrates are essentially the energy nutrient – they provide us with the fuel our brains and bodies need to function. Not all carbs are the same. Different types are used in different ways by our body, but all carbs provide the same amount of energy – which is 4 kcals per gram.

You will have seen on food labels it says "Carbohydrate – of which sugars..." This is because carbs are made up of starches, sugars and fibre. These are all types of carbohydrate, but the size of the carb molecule determines how it is digested, absorbed and used by our bodies.

Sugars – this type of carb gives fast release energy. The small, simple sugar molecules are quickly broken down by the body, so useful for immediate energy needs.

Starches – are slow energy release carbs. These have bigger, more complex molecules which take longer to be digested, making them useful for sustained energy needs.

Fibre – may or may not be digested by the body – it depends if it is soluble or not. The insoluble type doesn't get digested, which is important for keeping our digestive system healthy as it stimulates our gut, helping food to pass through it.

Why do carbs get a bad rap?

Carbs have been demonised over recent years and blamed for weight gain – which is strange as carbs contain half the calories of fat (4 kcals per gram vs 9 kcals per gram). Despite that, many people think cutting out carbs is a good way to lose weight. In part, this is probably because cutting out carbs may give good initial weight loss.

This is because reducing calories in your diet, particularly from carbs, may cause your body to start drawing on its glycogen stores i.e. carbohydrate stored in our liver and muscles. Each gram of glycogen stored in the body is bound to 3-4 grams of water, so tapping into your glycogen stores also releases a lot of water. So the initial weight loss is mainly water, not fat and isn't sustainable for too long.

The real problem is the type of carbohydrate – as explained above, not all carbs are the same. High-calorie foods often contain simple carbs (sugar) plus fat, and it's this nutrient combo that makes the food taste great – and when food tastes good, we often overindulge.

But choose the right type of carb, and it will actually help you to lose weight. Eating a diet with more complex carbohydrates (starches and fibre) and less simple carbohydrates (sugars) is a great way to lose and maintain a healthy weight. If you ask what the best nutrients are you should eat, complex carbs and fibre-rich foods would be right up there at the top of the list. They contain loads of important nutrients to help us stay healthy, and they can help us feel fuller for longer, which is a huge benefit for weight loss.

How many carbs do I need each day?

The UK recommendation is that approximately 50% of an adult's energy intake should come from carbohydrates. For an average maintenance intake of 2000 kcal / day this would be around 250g of carbs per day. On a reduced calorie intake of 1400 kcal / day, this would be 175g / day.

If you feel that you want to curb the number of carbs in your diet, Nutracheck has a choice of nutrient goals you can set – including a Lower Carb goal. Our nutritionists have set this to reduce your carb intake and ensure the level is healthy.

The vital thing with carbs is to choose wisely. Complex carbs are good – such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, and fibre rich cereals. Simple carbs are the ones to cut back on – which typically have high sugar (and fat) content – such as cakes, biscuits, desserts and sweets.

Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.

This site uses cookies to personalise content and ads, provide social media features and analyse our traffic. Find out more about how we use cookies.

Choose which cookies you allow us to use. You can read more about our Cookie Policy in our Privacy Policy.