Carbohydrates are not the enemy

I'm often having to reassure clients that carbohydrates are not the enemy and that they can and should be incorporated into a healthy eating regime, even if you are trying to lose weight! I was asked to write a short guest blog post on the website Wego Health about the myth that carbohydrates are fattening, and this is what I wrote:

Carbohydrate is the big buzz-word in dieting and low carbohydrate diets have been enormously popular in recent years. People who are trying to lose weight often restrict their carbohydrate intake on the belief that carbohydrates are fattening. Technically, a calorie is a calorie is a calorie! So regardless of the food source or food group, if you take in more calories than your body requires, you will put on weight. Some people do lose weight when they eliminate carbohydrates from the diet, but given that typically 50% of our intake is made up of carbohydrates, it stands to reason that you will lose weight, but this is not down to the carbohydrate per se, but because of the reduction in your overall daily calorie intake.

It is worth pointing out to all the high protein/low carbohydrate diet fans that gram for gram, carbohydrates contain the same amount of calories as protein (4kcals/g). What often make carbohydrates fattening is the cheeses (e.g. to your potato), butters (e.g. to your toast) and sauces (e.g. to your pasta) we add to them. One of the problems with weight reduction by the use of low carbohydrate diets is that they restrict food choices, and therefore may not provide properly balanced nutrition. Such diets are generally low in fruit and vegetables and wholegrain products, reducing the overall intake of fibre, antioxidants and micronutrients that are important for reducing the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. In addition, there is no real evidence that low carbohydrate diets result in greater weight loss than more conventional calorie restricted diets and no real evidence that they produce better weight maintenance.

Of course, calorie restriction is essential for weight loss, and one of the causes of obesity is undoubtedly increased portion sizes, but given that carbohydrates provide us with a good and essential source of nutrients required for a healthy, balanced and varied diet, it would be better to moderate the portions of carbohydrates, opt for wholegrain sources (as opposed to white processed sources such as white rice and white bread) and be mindful of what you add to them, rather than cutting them out altogether.