Carbohydrates have been getting a pretty bad rap lately. It seems that whenever someone embarks on a weight loss mission the carbs are one of the first things that get cut. There are a whole range of fad diets such as the Zone Diet and the Atkins Diet that advocate the restriction of carbohydrates. I can understand the appeal, so many people appear to have great success in reaching their goals by using this approach, but I just don’t understand how it can be a long-term eating plan for anyone. Many nutritionists will tell you that cutting out any major food group will help you to lose weight in the short term, but it is not a feasible long term lifestyle change to cut something as vital as carbs out of your diet. Your body NEEDS this fuel to function.
The first time I remember hearing about the virtues of cutting out carbs was when Jennifer Aniston went on the Zone Diet. Granted she looks amazing but her figure has as much to do with her diet as the gruelling exercise regime she maintains – who has 8 – 10 hours each week to dedicate to yoga??? I am willing to bet that given her workout program and genetics, she could probably eat just about anything she wanted and not struggle to fit into her jeans.
An article in The Age way back in 2004 talks about studies Deakin University has done into possible effects of adopting such an extreme diet:
In the short term, diet followers could suffer poor concentration, low energy, dehydration, constipation and bad breath. In the long term the risks were more serious if foods that helped protect against cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease were excluded from the diet.
I have to say that no amount of weight loss would make me want to risk those kind of side effects and I am sceptical of any eating plan that advocates eating bacon and eggs (with cream) rather than a piece of toast for breakfast. These diets fly in the face of every healthy food message I have ever known!
When I started an exercise program to lose weight before my wedding the only thing I changed in my diet was the amount of fats I was consuming and most importantly the types of fats. I loosely followed the guidelines of the Healthy Living Pyramid because it seemed so logical. It made more sense to me to cut out the Magnum ice creams and the creamy sauces than stop having pasta. Over a period of 6 months I lost 13kgs eating a diet mostly consisting of pasta and rice based dishes. Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates was the key to my success. Eating wholegrain breads, rice and pasta where possible will make you feel fuller for longer than their fluffy white counterparts while providing you with the fibre that your body needs to maintain a healthy heart and digestive system.
Carbs aren't the enemy. Sure there are a lot of naughtier options available and too much of anything can be a bad thing. But nothing beats a balanced intake of a wide range of foods from all the different food groups. Food is something to be enjoyed, savoured and shared with those you love, carbs included.