Do carbs deserve a bad reputation?

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Spoiler alert: No

Carbohydrates (carbs) have got a bit of a bad rap in recent years, but you shouldn’t avoid them.

They’ve been demonised by fad diets promising weight loss, so it’s no wonder so many people believe the myth that “carbs make you fat”.

They are in fact an essential part of our diet, and this article explains why.

What are carbs?

Carbs are one of the main building blocks of our diet, alongside protein and fats, and we need them in large amounts for energy.

They are found in foods as either sugar, starch or fibre. Sugars tend to be added to products like biscuits, sweets, chocolate, breakfast cereals, cake, yoghurts and soft drinks to make them sweeter.

Natural sugars are also found in things like fruit juices, smoothies and honey — and in some fruit and vegetables.

Starch is a carb in food which comes from plants, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, or rice. These are a better, more-healthy energy source than sugar.

Why do we need them?

Carbs are our bodies’ favourite form of energy. If you’ve ever tried cutting your supply of them, you might have felt tired as a result.

When we eat carbs, they are broken down into a sugar – glucose – which is then goes into the bloodstream to provide our body with energy.

Depending on the type of carbs, they can also be a great source of B vitamins, iron and fibre.

Carbs can also be comforting and enjoyable to eat.

How much do I need? And which ones?

The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends that just over one third of the food we eat should be made up of starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes etc.) with a similar amount of fruit and veg as well.

We should aim to eat more complex carbohydrates, like wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread, wholegrain rice, sweet potatoes, oats, and other grains such as quinoa and bulgur wheat.

These release energy more slowly, helping us to feel fuller for longer, as well as being a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice and pasta, sweets, chocolate and crisps, release energy much more rapidly and provide fewer essential nutrients.

Should I cut out carbs?

We should eat some carbs every day as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Nobody should really be cutting out any foods or food groups completely, apart from those with an allergy, intolerance or specific medical condition — who have spoken to a doctor about it.

Do carbs cause weight gain?

Carbs can cause weight gain over time if you eat a lot of them, but so can protein or fat-rich foods. Carbs are not particularly fattening in their own right.

Key sources and further reading

Gov UK: The Eatwell Guide

15 March, 2023