The Cursed Carbs – Are they really that bad for us?

The poor carbohydrates, also known as ‘carbs’, have had a beating over the last few years. But are they really to blame for our health issues such as obesity and diabetes? The short answer to that is ‘no’. Some of you might be surprised to know that the long-demonised carbohydrate may actually be good for us and could be the key to a long and healthy life. 

Carbohydrates are one of the major nutrients we need in our diet, they are called a ‘macro-nutrient’ and stand alongside protein and fats. Dietary carbohydrates are defined as being ‘complex’ or ‘simple’. Complex carbohydrates are present in foods such as bread and pasta, and simple carbohydrates are in foods such as sugars and syrups. 

We now understand that simple carbohydrates (such as sugars), are not so good for our health, but we have to understand that not all carbohydrates are the same. When we decide to ‘cut the carbs’ or go ‘carb free’, we are sometimes ignorant to the fact that we actually need good carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates) to live. The body requires a certain amount of carbohydrates to fuel the brain and muscles, hence why they are critical to life.  The next time someone tells you they are going ‘carb free’, have a wee chuckle to yourself.

Additionally, the issue is not the carbs themselves, but what we do to them, how we strip them of their nutrients and refine them down to look nothing like their original self. Think of the simple potato, there was nothing wrong with it in its original form, until we took the skin off, deep fried it, made it into small bite size pieces and covered in salt.

Now we know that carbohydrates are not the evil villain that we once thought they were, here are some of my favourite carbohydrates and ones to incorporate into your diet (if you are not already). These will add a bunch of nutrients, help with weight management, and can aid in creating a healthier you.

Nourishing carbohydrates 

Vegetables and fruit – It is a no brainer, these are by far the most nutrient rich carbohydrate food you will come across. Power-packed with nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals including folate, potassium, vitamin A, C and phytochemicals, it is no wonder we have been told to eat 5+ a day. To be more specific, as adults we are recommended to have at least 3 servings or more of vegetables a day and 2 servings of fruit and when it comes to vegetables and fruit, the more colour the better! Different coloured fruits and vegetables can offer different nutrients, for example ‘purple’ and ‘blue’ vegetables and fruit are rich in antioxidants that are associated with keeping the heart healthy and the brain functioning optimally, whereas ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ coloured fruits and vegetables have phytochemicals that may aid in healthy eyes and help to prevent age-related macular degeneration. So, when it comes to choosing vegetables and fruit – think of a RAINBOW. 

Oats – These are another great complex carbohydrate and are fantastic at keeping you fuller for longer. They also offer a good balance of proteins, with the added bonus of fibre and phytonutrients, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. When it comes to choosing oats, try and go for the ‘coarse’ style, compared to the ‘quick-cook’ ones, as typically these ones will be less processed and offer more dietary fibre. Great ways to add these into your diet are through porridge, in smoothies, adding to baking or in the new OSM Everyday Nutrition bar. These new bars are a perfect snack to ‘grab and go’ and come in 3 delicious flavours (Salted Maple Ancient Grain & Seed, Crunchy Peanut Butter and Blueberry & Blackcurrant). Nutritionally, they offer far more than your average muesli bar and contain 11% of our recommended daily intake (RDI) of complex carbohydrates. They are a great snack for you and your family! 

Sweet potato – Rich in an antioxidant nutrient called beta-carotene that is converted to Vitamin A in the body, sweet potato such as the kumara are a brilliant addition to your diet. Sweet potato also contains a good number of vitamins, such as B6, C and E. In terms of adding these to your diet, boiling sweet potatoes may theoretically be the best for them, however I would recommend to cook in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and enjoy in salads, as home-made wedges or as a kumara mash. 

Popcorn – Like the simple potato I mentioned before, popcorn has been drastically altered by us to go from a great high fibrous carbohydrate snack, to something doused in butter and salt and decreased in nutritional value. Basic popcorn is in fact a great snack option and high in fibre and low in fat. I recommend adding your own flavours to popcorn to make it more enjoyable, such as cocoa, cinnamon or spice it up by adding chilli flakes. This is a perfect mid-morning or afternoon snack. 

Whole-wheat pasta – Yes, I said PASTA! The good news is for those wanting to lose weight, whole-wheat carbohydrates can be the answer to helping you. Whole-wheat fibre is low GI (glycemic index) which means it is more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolised. The result of low GI foods means you get a slower rise in blood sugars, allowing for you to feel satisfied for longer, which is cool! So, do not be afraid of pasta, as it can be a great addition to your lunch or dinner meals. 

Legumes – Also known as pulses, which are beans and peas. Examples of legumes include chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, lupins etc. Legumes are a rich source of protein and fibre and are also considered a low GI carbohydrate. Legumes are great to add to lunches or dinners as a cost-effective way to add quality carbohydrates or can be used as a healthy alternative to baking. 

These are just a few of the quality carbohydrates that unless we have dietary requirements, we should all be adding to our diet. At the end of the day we must remember that carbs aren’t the diet demons we once thought they were but can be the key to optimise our health and live healthier and longer lives. 

Love from your OSM Nutritionist – Abby Shaw