If I was a carbohydrate (and if I was, I’d probably be Glucose, coz I like to act fast), I would be feeling a little bit unloved. L Carbohydrates have taken some major criticism in the last decade or so, leaving us human beings completely confused as to whether we should be eating them or not. It is my mission with this blog to enlighten you as to the many reasons why we need to be eating carbohydrates as well as how much you should eat, and exactly what foods contain the best ones.

So sit back, grab a bowl of (wholegrain) pasta, and let’s make friends with carb-to-the-hydrates again.

I’ll be answering the following questions:

1. What exactly are carbohydrates?

2. Do we need to eat carbs, and if so – why?

3. How much carbohydrate do I need to eat every day?

4. What are the best sources of carbs?

5. Is there such a thing as good and bad carbs?

6. Should I avoid eating carbohydrates after 6pm?

1. What exactly are carbohydrates?

To give carbs their posh name would be to call them ‘organic compounds’ comprised of carbon, hydrogen & oxygen atoms. In the real world, they’re one of your ‘energy macronutrients’ and are an essential part of your diet, if you wish to have optimal health.

There are two types of carbohydrate that we should familiarise ourselves with – simple carbs and complex carbs. Both of which are broken down by the body into their most simplest form (glucose) and used for energy by the body’s muscles and other systems including chemical reactions and your brain, to name but a few.

Simple carbohydrates are generally sugar molecules containing just 1 or 2 parts, which the body will process quickly, causing a sudden rise in blood sugar. Processed and refined carbohydrates would fall under this category. Examples of simple carbs are things like sugary cereals, sweets, biscuits, fruit juices, white processed bread and suchlike.

Complex carbohydrates are larger, more complex (funnily enough) molecules that the body takes longer to break down into their simplest form. This means they cause less of a blood sugar spike, and are more likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Complex carbs tend to be a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre too – which is awesome. Examples of complex carbs are things like wholegrain bread, rice, pasta and vegetables.

I am hoping you have already made your own assumptions as to which is better for you to eat if you are striving for optimal health.

2. Do we need to eat carbs? If so, why?

Great question! Carbs seem to have accumulated such a bad reputation and have become something that a lot of people are fearful of. I used to have a friend who cried at the thought of eating carbs for fear of getting fat. What the actual fuck?

Anyway, in answer to the question – yes – you do need to eat carbs, if you want to actually stay alive and function optimally as a human being.

Carbohydrate is your body’s primary energy source and it will use this for energy first before anything else. Ensuring you are getting enough carbs in your diet will guarantee that you have enough energy to feel awake and energetic throughout the day. It’s important to mention here that including complex carbohydrates in your diet will assist with this and eating too many simple carbs may actually cause surges and dips in energy levels, which won’t make you feel too good.

Glucose is carbohydrate in its most basic form. Your brain runs on glucose. Guess how you might feel if you don’t have enough glucose from a good source of carbohydrate in your diet? Your ability to concentrate, remember things, study and learn will be impaired. Not to mention you’ll find it more difficult to get through your working day!

There are some tiny little critters that would love it if you would eat some more carbohydrates in the form of plants (one of the best sources). Your gut bacteria will LOVE you for it. I won’t go in to the importance of pleasing your gut bacteria in this blog (that’s for another time) but what I will say is - you’ll be doing yourself a big favour in the digestion department by increasing the amount of carbohydrates you get from vegetables and fruits.

Hopefully I have convinced you that yes, you do indeed require carbs if you wish to function optimally. Which leads me to the next question…

3. How much carbohydrate do I need to eat every day?

It would be irresponsible of me to give you a concrete answer to this, as it is one of those ‘it depends’ situations. Carbs are a source of fuel, and everybody has a different level of activity thus a different energy requirement. For example, a sedentary person who sits at a desk all day 9-5 and then goes home and sits in front of the telly all night will require a lot less fuel than an Olympic athlete who is training for 6-8 hours a day. The average female gym goer will also require a completely different amount, as will the construction worker, the fitness instructor and the busy mum. It’s absolutely impossible to give you an exact amount.

However, what I can say is this – having around a cupped handful of complex carbohydrates at each meal, coupled with 2 or 3 different varieties of plants should give you enough fuel to feel good. If you are particularly active you may need more than this, and if you are particularly inactive you might need less than this. Speak to a professional if you would like a very specific answer to this. Too much carbohydrate in your diet can put you into a calorie surplus causing weight gain, so it’s important to consider this.

4. What are the best sources of carbohydrates?

I think I may have already covered this above, but let’s re-cap.

In an ideal world – 90% of your carbohydrate intake would come from complex carbs, and just 10% from simple, processed or refined carbs. This will allow you to have a ‘little of what you fancy’ without feeling deprived or guilty about your favourite chocolate or crisps.

Complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, wholegrain breads, pasta, rice and oats are a good source which also contain lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Including 7-10 portions of plants (vegetables and fruits) in your daily diet will also ensure you are getting enough carbohydrates as well as keeping your digestive system happy.

Remember to satisfy your mind as well by including small amounts (10%, remember?) of refined carbs that you like. Mine include maltesers and Walker’s Sensations…

5. Is there such a thing as good and bad carbs?

No, not really. There is however, good and bad quantities of carbohydrates that fall in line with your personal goals, so it’s a good idea to keep that in mind.

Obviously, eating mostly complex carbohydrates along with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables is going to be much better for you than getting most of your energy sources from things like sugary cereal, chocolate and white bread. Just use your common sense here and you’ll be fine.

6. Should I avoid eating carbs after 6pm?

There seems to be a common misconception that eating carbs after 6pm (or any time in the evening) will make you gain weight. This is a lie.

The timing of your carbohydrates, or indeed any of your meals, is not important. So long as you are getting the calories and macronutrients you need in a day, the timing of these meals isn’t something you should be too concerned about.

In fact, having a good course of carbohydrate in the evening may actually help you to sleep better!

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About the Author

"All in or all out" Rachael is a vibrant, no-bullshit-talking Scottish nutrition geek and coach helping women to lose weight without giving up their confidence OR their favourite foods.

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