'Eat Right' Challenge, Carbs - Day 5

Emma White - Nutritionist

Nutritionist Janet dispels a few carb myths

Over recent years, carbs have had a bad press. There have been lots of confusing messages, many not supported by any scientific evidence. Consequently, there's a mistaken belief that you have to cut out carbs – particularly bread, to lose weight. Here are a few more statements that get bandied around.

1 Carbs make you fat!

Our comment:  Carbs provide less than half the calories of fat – 4kcal per gram vs 9kcal per gram for fat, so carbs are not the most energy-dense nutrient. Also, it is very 'expensive' for the body to convert carbs into fat for storage, so unless there is a significant excess of carbs (and more importantly, calories), they won't be stored as fat (or make you fat).

It's all about the overall calories we eat and how we use them! However – high-calorie foods often contain simple carbs (sugar) plus fat, and this nutrient combo makes the food taste great. When food tastes good, we often overindulge and consume too many calories.

2 When I cut out carbs, I lose more weight, so that's better, right?

Our comment: Weight loss boils down to creating a calorie deficit – if you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you will start to lose weight. For some people, this happens when they cut down on carbs. For others, it may be when they switch to lower fat foods.

Rapid weight loss is often down to losing water rather than fat, so we can't say that cutting out carbs leads to faster weight loss.

The science. Reducing calories in your diet, particularly from carbs, may cause your body to start drawing on its glycogen stores, i.e. carbohydrate stored in your liver and muscles. As each gram of stored glycogen is bound to 3-4 grams of water, using your glycogen stores causes water to be released too, so initial weight loss is mostly water and not fat, which is unsustainable.

3 Smoothies are a super healthy choice

Our comment: The sugars naturally found in fruits and vegetables are handled differently by our body because they are contained within the cells of the food. This means we initially digest and absorb them more slowly.

Smoothies can be a great way to get fruit, veg and other great foods into our diets, BUT – it is important to be aware – the blending process breaks down the cell walls making the sugars within fruit and veg more readily available.

These free sugars in fruit juices and smoothies ('free' because they are no longer contained within the cell wall) are more rapidly absorbed into our bodies so may lead to fluctuations in blood sugars.

However, when we eat whole fruit and veg, this process is slowed down, and the sugar is released more steadily. Other important nutrients in fruit and veg such as fibre may also be broken down in smoothies.

4 Honey is healthier than sugar

Our comment: Although honey is often thought to be healthier than sugar and used as a substitute, it is in fact mostly made up of sugars. The types of sugar molecules are slightly different from those we see in white sugar, but it contains around the same number of calories.

The sugars in honey are slightly sweeter than sugar, so you may be able to use less of it (and therefore eat fewer calories), but swapping sugar for honey doesn't automatically make a recipe healthier.

5 Brown sugar is healthier than white sugar

Our comment: Brown sugar is essentially white sugar but mixed with molasses to give it the brown colour. Nutritionally they are the same, providing the same number of calories (4 kcals/gram) and the same level of sweetness.

Ideally it's best to cut down on all types of added sugar in our diet – whether this is white sugar, brown sugar or honey for example. If you take sugar in your tea or coffee, try gradually reducing how much you have over time to help your palate adjust to less sweetness. Or you could try adding a small amount of sweetener such as stevia to cut down on added calories, while still keeping the sweetness.

6 Fruit is bad for me and contains lots of sugar

Our comment: No! This just isn't true – yes fruits can contain higher levels of sugars than other foods but they also contain loads of important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fibre and water. The sugars in fruits are naturally occurring and are not thought to impact blood sugar levels as free/added sugars do. Eating plenty of fruit is a great way to support a healthy and balanced diet, and don't forget the veg too!

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.

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