Are carbs good for you? Are carbs bad for you? What even are carbs? Let's get to the bottom of it.
When you think of carbs, most people straight away think of bread and potatoes. But there are so many others! In fact four out of the five main food groups include at least some foods which contain carbs.
So just to be clear...
Grains - not surprisingly everything in this food group is a carb. All breads, cereals, rice, pasta, oats, cous cous, quinoa, buckwheat, chia, etc.
Fruit - all fruit is also considered a carb. Most fruits contain roughly the same amount of carbs per serve (as per the Australian Dietary Guidelines). However, per serve, bananas have about twice as much, and berries half as much compared to the average fruit.
Vegetables - the only vegetables that contain carb are potatoes, sweet potato, corn and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, baked beans, etc.)
Dairy - most dairy products also contain carbs. Milk, yoghurt, custard, ice-cream--everything except cheese.
Meat - meat does not contain carbs!
So what is a carbohydrate?
"Carbohydrate" is an umbrella term that refers to a lot of organic compounds which are found in many foods as well as in living organisms.
That's right, we actually store carbs in our body, mainly in the liver and skeletal muscles. Carbs are the body's preferred energy source and every cell in the body needs them to function properly.
However, when there is too much carb, the body will convert the excess to fat for storage. Naturally, you want to avoid this.
What happens when you go low carb? Ketosis. The body starts using fat as an energy source and in the process it produces ketones as a byproduct. When ketones build up in your blood that's called ketosis and it also causes your breath to smell like nail polish remover. Not nice. I know this sounds like a great way to lose fat. But a better way is to manage your overall calories while still keeping a balanced diet. If you eat less energy than you expend you will lose fat, and you won't have bad breath.
So... eat too much and you'll get fat; eat too little and you'll get bad breath.
Sounds pretty simple right?
Just eat enough carbs, but not too much and not too little. Eat a goldilocks amount of carbs. Well, yes. However... not all carbs are equal.
We can break carbs up into two main types - 'simple' and 'complex'. Generally speaking you want to have more of the complex carbs (which include fibre and starches) and less of the simple carbs (sugars).
Without getting too bogged down in the science of it all, complex carbs have larger structures and take longer for our body to break down and digest. This is a good thing because it gives your body time to produce the necessary hormones to process the carbohydrate. And while it's doing that you're going to be feeling full and less likely to want to snack.
Simple carbs are processed much more quickly, so if you eat a lot of them at once they can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This is often referred to as a sugar rush. So then the body needs to rush to process it all which then causes a quick drop in sugar levels, and you get hungry again.
Having said that, other nutrients like fibre and fat can slow down the absorption of simple carbs, which helps your body to process them.
For example, fruit which contains sugar, also contains fibre. So if you eat a piece of fruit, it won't have the same effect as if you eat a handful of jelly beans.
The same principle works with dairy. There is natural sugar in milk and yoghurt, but they also have fat, which slows down the absorption of the food as a whole.
So, are carbs good for you? Yes.
Are carbs bad for you? Sometimes.
Basically just eat them in moderation and make sure you get them from good sources most of the time. Wholegrain breads and cereals, whole fruit and vegetables and unsweetened dairy in moderate amounts.