Is there a best time to eat carbs?
According to dietitian Melissa Meier, carb quality, quantity and timing are three big factors in a healthy eating plan.
Ahh, carbs… The dreaded ‘c’ word in the world of wellness, with every second fad diet, influencer and personal trainer encouraging you to drop them from your food regime.
As a dietitian, however, I’ve got a shinier opinion of carbs – and you ought to as well. Not only should you include carbs in your diet, but you should feature them heavily. Here’s why.
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Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients that provide your body with energy, the others being protein and fat (oh, and alcohol – but that’s a story for another day). Gram for gram, carbs contain exactly the same amount of calories as protein (shocker!). You’ll find them in everything from bread, potatoes, fruit and yoghurt to lollies, soft drink and meat pies.
Carbs are essential (yes, essential) in a healthy diet. Not only are they your body’s preferred source of fuel, but foods containing them can really boost the micronutrient content of your meals. In fact, carbs are recommended to make up 45 to 65 per cent of your entire day’s energy intake.
By now, you might’ve guessed that all carbs aren’t equal – and that couldn’t be more true. When it comes to carb quality, there are two main things to focus on:
1. Is it wholegrain?
Wholegrains like rolled oats, brown rice and quinoa offer far more nutrients (think: fibre, healthy fats, iron) than their refined counterparts like white bread, white rice and couscous. They’ve also been linked to a host of health perks, like protection from certain diseases and a healthier weight, so are a far healthier choice.
2. Is it low-GI?
The glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of the effect of carbs on your blood sugars. Essentially, high GI foods send your blood sugars on a high-speed rollercoaster, while low GI foods have a much gentler effect. The former will leave you searching for more quick-energy food, while the latter provides sustained energy, keeps you feeling satisfied and can help to control cravings.
All in all, you want to ensure at least one of these boxes is ticked when it comes to choosing quality carbs.
Carbs affect your blood sugars, so you don’t want to dump all of your daily carbs on your body at once (goodbye mountains of pasta, hello sensible portions). To keep your blood sugars balanced, you want to spread carbs evenly throughout the day.
An easy way to do this is to adopt the healthy plate model. This is an easy formula in which you fill your plate with 25 per cent carbs, 25 per cent lean protein and 50 per cent non-starchy veg. Do this at each main meal, throw in some fruit and yoghurt for snacks throughout the day, and you’re well on your way to a healthy eating plan.
Another way to look at it is to consider your clenched fist as a guide for a healthy portion of carbs. That’s roughly the equivalent of a medium-sized potato, a cup of cooked rice or pasta, or a couple of slices of bread (wholegrain, of course).
You’ve probably joked about carb loading while you’re downing a few slices of pizza or a bowl of pasta. For the average Joe, however, true carb loading isn’t really necessary – it’s more of a thing for those who are seriously into their fitness (read: running marathons or competing in long-distance cycling). Why? Your body has enough stored carbs for about 90 minutes of activity. Longer exercise stints than this, and your body needs more carbs to keep performing. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s just not necessary for the typical weekend gym warrior!
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.