Should I cut carbs from my diet to lose weight?

Should I cut carbs from my diet to lose weight?

How to incorporate carbohydrates into your weight loss programme

The 'carbs are bad' message has penetrated our thinking about how to eat well and has left many people confused about what nutritional benefits carbohydrates have to our health. 

Many of the current diet trends favour a low carbohydrate approach (less than 50g per day equivalent to two thick slices of white bread) that involves eating high quantities of fat and moderate amounts of protein. 

Research by the Mayo clinic concluded that low carbohydrate diets are affective for weight loss but should only be followed short-term and that the long-term effects of this type of diet are yet unknown.  They also concluded from their research that compared with a traditional low fat diet the difference in weight loss was small and of questionable clinical significance.

As with any diet, the most effective is one that you can stick to but if you’re not prepared to forgo carbohydrates then that doesn’t mean you won’t lose any weight.  Whilst a diet rich in refined carbohydrates and sugar may cause weight gain, the same can’t be said for small servings of wholegrains and other high-fibre foods, when eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.  The key is to stick with whole, unprocessed foods and cut back rather than completely cut out carbohydrates if you still want to include them in your diet.

Carbohydrates, overweight and disease

Humans have been eating carbohydrate foods for a very long time and only in the last few decades have we seen an explosion in obesity so they cannot be made solely responsible for weight gain.  Other populations around the world have very good health with low rates of disease and still eat a diet high in carbohydrates such as the Okinawans and other Asian communities.   It’s highly processed foods rich in refined carbohydrates including sugar and not diets containing unprocessed foods that have contributed to obesity and disease amongst populations around the world.

If you’re trying to lose weight but don’t want to give up carbohydrates, then look at including small servings of these five healthiest varieties below.

Top five healthiest carbohydrate foods

White Pasta (cooked)
This is one of the most carbohydrate-rich foods and made from highly refined flour, which is lower in fibre, vitamins and minerals than wholegrains and pulses.  Refined white grains can also cause spikes in insulin that can promote fat storage and short-lived satiety.
180g serving
282 cals
54g carbs
10g protein
3g fibre
Rich in: 15% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of thiamine and niacin

Quinoa (cooked)
180g serving
222 calories
39.4g carbohydrate
8g protein
5g fibre
Rich in: more than 30% of the RDA of vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc

Quinoa is often referred to as a pseudo-grain as it is the seed of a broadleaf plant.  As a seed, quinoa has higher protein content than many other grains.  It contains a full spectrum of essential amino acids making it a great food for people who do not eat animal proteins.  The carbohydrate content per serving is lower than many white cereal grains and is also higher in fibre.  The combination of fibre and protein in this seed have less impact on blood sugar levels and can help to manage satiety and cravings after eating.  You can easily replace rice with quinoa and it can also be tossed into salads, stir-fry’s and soups rather than being served as an accompaniment if you are trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake.

Pearled Spelt (cooked)
180g serving
228 calories 
46.8g carbohydrates
9.9g protein
7g fibre
Rich in: more than 30% of the RDA of niacin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper

Spelt makes a great alternative to white rice in dishes such as risotto.  You can also add cooked spelt to salads, soups and stews to add a little carbohydrate to your dishes.  Pearled spelt is like barley but cooks in half the time. This grain is slightly lower in carbohydrates than white refined grains but is higher in fibre that can help to slow its breakdown meaning less impact on blood-sugar levels. 

Pinto Beans (canned)
100g serving 
160 calories
22.8g carbohydrates
8.7g protein
7.4g fibre
Rich in: more than 30% of the RDA of folate, iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium

Although beans and pulses are often associated with being a vegetarian source of protein, they are also a source of complex carbohydrates (high in fibre).  This group of foods contain about half the carbohydrate content of white refined grains and they are one of the richest sources of fibre.  Beans and pulses also contain more iron, zinc and calcium than refined white grains, which is invaluable for people who do not eat meat or dairy foods.  You can serve beans and pulses whole by putting them into salads, soups and stews or you can mash them to serve as a low carbohydrate accompaniment.

Try this Pinto Bean Chilli recipe from The Detox Kitchen Bible

Oats (dry weight)
50g serving 
160 calories
35g carbohydrates
6.5g protein
5g fibre
Rich in: more than 30% of the RDA of thiamine, iron, magnesium and zinc

This wholegrain makes for a highly nutritious breakfast and contains less carbohydrate than many other breakfast cereals that are often loaded with quickly digested sugars.  Oats contain a greater amount of protein and fibre than many other breakfast cereal options, which work together to help maintain fullness.  Oats also contain a type of soluble fibre known as beta-glucans that can help to reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body, which is beneficial for heart health.

Butternut Squash
250g serving
108 calories
24.9g carbohydrates
6.4g fibre
3.3g protein
Rich in: more than 30% of the RDA of Vitamins A, B6, C and thiamine, magnesium, and potassium

Starchy root vegetables such as butternut squash are lower in carbohydrates than other foods such as white refined grains and have the added benefit of being higher in fibre, which helps to keep you feeling full as well as protecting you against the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.  Brightly coloured root vegetables count as one of your five-a-day and are rich in phytonutrients such as beta-carotene (found in orange vegetables) that acts as an antioxidant in the body.  This group of vegetables also have a higher water content than other carbohydrate foods making them lower in calories, which can help to promote weight loss.  You can roast or mash most root vegetables and those such as squash and carrot can be spiralized to make nice alternatives to foods such as spaghetti.

Substitute pumpkin with butternut squash in this Chickpea, Pomegranate & Pumpkin Curry recipe

Whilst a diet high in refined carbohydrates such as sugar and those found in processed foods may encourage weight gain when eaten in excess, small servings of unprocessed, high-fibre carbohydrates make a valued addition to the diet and do not need to be given up to lose weight.  Team your carbohydrates with a good source of protein, healthy fats and plenty of vegetables to make up healthy meals.