Do we need to eat carbohydrates?1 Aug
When it comes to the latest diet trends carbohydrates have been in the limelight of public attention for a while, headlines include statements around carbohydrates increasing fat intake and everyone seems to be jumping on the band-wagon of Keto diets! But what are the facts around carbohydrates, and do we really need to include them in our diets?
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients found in foods; the other two are fat and protein. There are 3 types of carbohydrates; sugar, starch and fibre and are found in different foods.
The type of sugar in carbohydrates is called free sugar, and in the UK we generally tend to over-consume free sugars! These can be added to food and drinks, and high amounts can be found in biscuits, chocolate, cereals, fizzy drinks amongst other processed food products.
Starch is a carbohydrate that can be found in rice, bread, potatoes etc. Most plants store their energy as starch which explains why these foods, and anything made from wheat flour are high in starch. Starches provide a slow release of energy as they break down more slowly than sugars.
There are many different types of fibre and they can be found in the cell walls of different foods, particularly plant-based foods e.g. fruit, vegetables, wholegrain pastas, beans etc. It helps keep your bowels healthy and can keep you feeling full.
Why do we need carbohydrates?
We need carbohydrates for a lot of things; the main one being energy. Once you have eaten any carbohydrates these are broken down and made into glucose. Glucose is a sugar and an extremely important energy source. When consuming more glucose than we need for immediate energy, the surplus is converted into something called glycogen which is stored for long-term energy release.
Carbohydrates are essential in your diet; they contain many vitamins and minerals as well as sugar for energy, fibre and starch, which will help your body stay healthy and function well. Carbohydrates also help with disease risk; because of the fibre carbohydrates can help prevent constipation. You can also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and so much more!
How much do I need to eat?
Current recommendation’s for carbohydrate intake is 50-55% of total dietary intake (1). Unless you have been advised to by a qualified health professional, there should be no need to cut them out of your diet. The main things to be aware of are portion sizes and the types of carbohydrates in your diet. Ideally, we should be aiming to include foods that contain more fibre so wholegrain and high-fibre types of carbohydrates are excellent options. Of course, there are always going to be times when we may over-do-it (for example, eating a whole pizza in one sitting – not that there is anything wrong with this!) and so we should be aware of how much is too much and portion sizes (please see link below for guidance on portion sizes (2). But generally, if your diet is healthy and you’re aware of your portion sizes there’s nothing to fear when it comes to carbohydrates. Plus, they are delicious so go and enjoy your carbs!