The only problem? Everyone has a different opinion on them. We’re told they’re bad, we’re told they’re healthy, we’re told to cut them out and only eat them at certain times.
It’s exhausting, not to mention confusing. So what’s the truth? We asked dieticians to bust the most common carb myths for good.
1. ‘Carbs are just in foods like bread and pasta.’
A common myth stems from confusion about what carbohydrates actually are.
“Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients [the other two are fat and protein] in foods and beverages, and are an essential fuel for our brains, nervous systems, red blood cells, kidneys and exercising muscles,” says Dr Alan Barclay, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
You’ll find them in far more than just bread, too, with carbs found naturally in a whole range of highly nutritious and healthy foods, including fruit, vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables, grains, milk, yoghurt, breakfast cereals, confectionery, chips and soft drinks. Phew.
Watch: Dani Venn shows us how to make a delicious quinoa and prawn dish. (Post continues after video.)
2. ‘All carbs are the same.’
While Changing Shape dietitian Gabrielle Maston doesn’t like to use the terms ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to label food, she says it’s false that carbs are all the same.
“There is just different quality carbs for different purposes. For example, low GI carbs like wholegrain bread, quinoa, basmati rice, fruit and dairy products are best eaten as a staple of the diet as they are highly nutritious, whereas more processed carbs that are high GI shouldn’t be eaten all the time,” she says.
Processed carbs are things like white bread, white crackers, lollies, soft drink and cake, which she recommends reserving for special occasions or lengthy sporting events when you need quick energy burst. (Post continues after gallery.)
3. ‘You shouldn’t eat carbs after 7pm.’
If you’ve been avoiding your favourite pasta dish after 7pm for the good of your body, we’ve got some welcome news for you.
“Your body can digest and utilise carbs at any time of the day. If you are trying to lose weight there is no problem with eating carbs after a certain time of day. Just make sure it’s within your energy needs,” says Maston.
“This means if you have a large plate of pasta at lunch, its best not to repeat that again at dinner. Try to space out your carb intake into several meals in small amounts and choose the most nutritious types.”
4. ‘A healthy diet doesn’t include carbs.’
No, you should never cut carbs out of your life completely.
“You need an absolute minimum of 50 grams of carbohydrate each day for essential functions (e.g. brain and nervous). Most people who try to reduce their carbohydrate intake down to this level are unable to for long periods of time,” says Dr Barclay.
Any ‘results’ obtained from this practise will be entirely short term.
“When you go on a low-carb diet you quickly use up your muscle and liver glycogen stores, and the associated water, which provides the illusion of more rapid weight loss than other diets in the short-term (less than one year), but it is that – an illusion,” he says.
Carbs are a great cheap and nutritious way to balance your diet in small amounts so you can still lose weight and be healthy.
“As soon as you go back to a regular diet you replenish your glycogen stores, and associated water. There are no long-term (two or more years) scientific studies showing that low carb diets are better than any other kind of diet.” (Post continues after video.)
5. ‘Carbs are uniquely fattening.’
Carbs are not the enemy to being healthy or losing weight. Too much of anything — including alcohol, protein and fat itself — is fattening.
“We all need a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat for health and well-being. The ‘avoid-one-nutrient-at-a-time’ approach is not a recipe for long-term success or happiness,” says Dr Barclay.
“The anti-fat movement only made the obesity situation worse; the low-carb movement will do the same. Enjoy the best quality foods you can afford and don’t eat or drink too much.”
Carbs actually play a major role in some of the diets science has dubbed the healthiest.
“The problem is not with the food itself, but with peoples ability to control the serving size they eat. Pasta and bread have been staples of the Mediterranean diet throughout history. This style of diet has shown to be the best style of diet for good health and longevity,” says Maston.
6. ‘You shouldn’t eat carbs after working out.’
In fact, it’s the opposite.
“They aid muscle and energy recovery after training. Not everyone works out to lose weight,” explains Maston.
“Recreational and elite athletes eat carbs after workouts to refuel and prepare themselves for the following training session. Its about what you eat in total, not just when you eat carbs.”
What food or diet myth have you always been curious about?