SARAH DI LORENZO: Here’s why you should be eating complex carbohydrates

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Sarah Di Lorenzo
The Nightly
SARAH DI LORENZO: I think it would be fair to say that carbohydrates have been demonised in the weight loss space for the past 20 years or so.  But carbs are not the bad guy. Here’s why...
SARAH DI LORENZO: I think it would be fair to say that carbohydrates have been demonised in the weight loss space for the past 20 years or so. But carbs are not the bad guy. Here’s why... Credit: Supplied

I think it would be fair to say that carbohydrates have been demonised in the weight loss space for the past 20 years or so.

Carbohydrates are seen as the cause of obesity and chronic disease.

So often I hear people saying they don’t eat carbohydrates and I see in my clinic women who have not eaten carbohydrates for around a decade but this comes with a consequence.

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First I want to explain carbohydrates, they are one of our three macronutrients, the other two being protein and fats and they have a very important role in our diet.

But it is knowing the difference in carbohydrates that is key. There are complex carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates provide us with energy, support our gut health, control blood glucose and insulin metabolism plus help with cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism.

Complex carbohydrates provide us with energy, support our gut health, control blood glucose and insulin metabolism plus help with cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism. 
Complex carbohydrates provide us with energy, support our gut health, control blood glucose and insulin metabolism plus help with cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism.  Credit: Yulia Furman - stock.adobe.com

They include fruit and starchy vegetables, legumes and whole grains including whole-grain products such as bread, rice and whole-grain pasta. Refined carbohydrates are what give carbohydrates a bad name, these are products where most of the nutrients have been removed during the processing, white rice, white bread, cakes, biscuits, some breakfast cereals, waffles pretty much anything made from white flour.

These when consumed in excess are what lead to weight gain, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, really all conditions relating to metabolic health.

As mentioned previously there is a cost that comes with abandoning all carbs, including the complex carbohydrates and I see this in my clinic interestingly with women who have avoided carbs for 15— 20 years presenting with high cholesterol. One of the many purposes of carbohydrates is to regulate our cholesterol. But as well as poor gut health due to the lack of fibre in the diet.

The only time I ever encourage people to avoid carbohydrates is for weight loss, by way of a low-carb diet, but done the healthy way. Low-carb diets can create keto bodies, which are magnificent for spot-reducing fat and I absolutely love ketosis as a method of losing weight because you lose fat and not fluid and muscle.

But I will only let my patients be in a state of ketosis for a maximum of six months, even if they’ve got 30-plus kilos to lose. They have to have a diet break, go back on carbs for a month or two, and then I get them to get a blood test and if everything looks good, we can start ketosis again.

A lot of people who have had success with low-carb diets do struggle with reintroducing carbohydrates in fear of weight regain but also because such a negative association has been created.

I have to coach patients not to be scared of carbohydrates and the way I do this is with calorie comparisons. This is one of the very few times I reference calories, so I explain to people there is a similar amount of calories in 100 grams of protein as there is in ½ cup of oats and it works. When people start eating carbs again, I advise them to do five days out of seven and aim for just one serving a day at breakfast or lunch, this is logical as they are our energy source and we don’t need energy at night.

So as you can see carbs are not the bad guy and a healthy balanced diet plays a very important role, the key is timing and enjoying only the complex ones.

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