The low down on carbohydrates

There are three categories macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates.

I often hear people say they need carbohydrates because they are an essential food; so I would like to clarify what an essential nutrient is classed as in nutrition science. An essential nutrient is a nutrient that your body can’t make at all, or can’t make enough of to maintain good health, requiring us to get it through our food. You may have heard of essential fatty acids and essential amino acids (amino acids are what protein is made from). There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate; your body can make its own glucose when it is required.

Sugar is the generalised name for a class of chemically-related sweet-flavoured substances – carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrates, they mostly become glucose or fructose in the body when digested. If you are having health issues, you need to not only know how much added sugar you consume, it is also important to know how much total carbohydrate you eat.

Eating too many carbohydrates can drive inflammation throughout the body through over production of a hormone called insulin. It can lead to many serious health issues including metabolic syndrome, mood problems, hormonal issues, fatty liver disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol issues, dementia and more!

Blood sugar levels need to be managed well, eating a high carbohydrate diet tends to cause big blood sugar highs and lows, leading to significant energy and mood fluctuations throughout the day. Glucose is used as a fuel in the body but the body can only use and store so much and the rest becomes fat in the body.

Having a high amount of glucose in the blood is a big issue because it is like tiny pieces of glass running around in our blood stream damaging your blood vessels! This is what causes diabetic retinopathies (leading to blindness, and foot/leg amputations).

You don’t need to avoid carbohydrates, just be aware of how much carbohydrate you eat and how it is affecting your health. Learn which are good quality carbohydrates and start to learn how much and which type of carbohydrate is right for your body. This is unique for each individual depending on levels of exercise, size, genetics/ancestry, health issues such as insulin resistance and diabetes etc.

Besides the added sugar in foods (which you have absolutely no biological need for and should be avoided as much as possible), carbohydrates generally come in the form of potatoes, bread, corn, rice, pasta, muffins, cakes, crackers, packaged foods etc. Fruit and vegetables are also carbohydrates, except for not overdoing potato, lots of colourful vegetables are a great thing to add to the diet, especially greens. They provide very important vitamins and minerals, fibre and fuel to allow our good bacterial to thrive. Fresh fruit is also a great addition to the diet for most people, 1-3 pieces per day depending on your nutritional needs.

Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates, they are not the enemy, you just need to be aware of how they may be affecting your health and ensure you eat the right amount/kind for you; along with a balanced diet including good quality protein and fats/oils.

Fiona Kane, Nutritionist, Holistic Counsellor, Life Coach and That Sugar Film Ambassador