Diet & Nutrition

Seven reasons why we should be eating carbs

Haven't you missed potato and bread? Let the love affair begin again.
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If there’s one food source that’s taken a bad rap in recent years, it’s carbohydrates. Everyone knows someone who has cut them from their diet, or who is trying to follow a low-carb diet.

Yet the truth is we need carbs for so many different reasons – for clarity of thinking and good heart health, to buoy our mood and even promote good sleep and fertility.

While we’re not suggesting you switch your Mediterranean-style eating plan for plates piled high with pasta and potato, we are saying a little mash won’t hurt, and we’ve asked nutritionist Jessica Campbell to explain why.

1. Carbohydrates help you sleep better

To ensure a better night’s sleep, include some carbohydrate in your evening meal.

“They help with boosting those serotonin levels before bed, making it easier to sleep,” Campbell explains.

This can be particularly helpful for menopausal women who are struggling with symptoms of insomnia and mood swings.

2. Carbs can boost your fertility

If your carbohydrate intake is too low that can mess with your hormones and be a cause of hypothalamic amenorrhoea (when your periods stop), Campbell says.

“If you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it’s not silly for your body to wind back your fertility if you aren’t consuming enough energy to maintain a pregnancy.”

3. They’re integral to good bowel health

Carbs are a source of fibre, and without enough fibre we can become constipated.

Campbell explains, “While you don’t want food to be moving through your bowel too quickly, because that’s when you can have diarrhoea or malabsorption issues, you also don’t want food to be moving too slowly because you expose your gut lining to toxins (including some produced by our gut bacteria as well as ingested carcinogens) for longer periods of time.

“In cases of chronic constipation, in particular, when you’ve not got food moving through quickly enough, this has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal (bowel) cancer and benign polyps.”

4. Carbs make us feel good

“We need healthy microflora for good mood,” Campbell explains. “Carbs are a primary source of fuel for our gut bacteria – around 90 to 95 per cent of our serotonin (which is our feel-good hormone) is produced in our gut. So it’s worthwhile keeping your gut bacteria well fed!

“Sources of carbohydrates, such as wholegrains, contain other known mood boosters such as antioxidants, B vitamins and minerals.”

5. Carbs can protect your heart health

Beta-glucans, which are found in oats, can help to reduce your cholesterol levels by preventing intestinal absorption of cholesterol from food. Yes that’s right – that morning bowl of porridge may be helping to keep your cholesterol down.

6. Carbs keep brain fog at bay

Our brains run primarily and preferentially on glucose, says Campbell.

“So if we’re restricting our carb intake and restricting our glucose intake we can get a bit foggy and experience low energy, and when combined with a low mood that’s not a great place to be.”

7. Carbohydrates are a great source of B vitamins

… And we need those for energy release and serotonin production.

Good sources of carbohydrate:

There are good sources of carbohyrdate and not so healthy sources. The good carbohydrates that you want to be eating are the following – these sources contain the most fibre and micronutrients such as B vitamins:

  • Wholegrains (oats, dense grainy breads – think your vogels and burgen, bulgur wheat, cereals)

  • Rice (especially brown rice)

  • Wholegrain pasta

  • Starchy vegetables (potato, kumara, yams)

  • Fruits

  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas)

  • Milks and yoghurt

What’s with those carb cravings?

You’ve had dinner, you’re not really hungry, but there’s a big bag of sea salt Copper Kettle chips waiting in the pantry and they’re calling your name. You can’t resist…

The reason we binge on carbs – and the least nutritional sources of carbohydrate at that – is because we haven’t eaten enough of them through the day, advises Campbell.

“Strong cravings for carbs can be a sign you haven’t eaten enough throughout the day and now you’re seeking out readily available sugars to keep your blood glucose stable and top your energy levels up,” she says.

We told you that you needed them.

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