In your av­er­age line-up of nu­tri­tional heavy­weights, the hum­ble beige carb is nowhere to be seen. But, while we know the macronu­tri­ent is es­sen­tial for en­ergy, now science is point­ing to car­bo­hy­drates as the key to achiev­ing a healthy body com­po­si­tion, to

Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - words KATE WILLS il­lus­tra­tions MDI DIG­I­TAL

The fat-loss win­ner that was in your bread bin all along

Oh, car­bo­hy­drates, it’s been such a roller­coaster. We had a good thing go­ing un­til Atkins ar­rived, then Dukan and pa­leo fol­lowed and once again things went a lit­tle cold. We’d just about re­paired the dam­age caused by ‘no carbs be­fore Marbs’ when cour­getti hap­pened and, as if to add in­sult to in­jury, cauli rice. But hang in there, carbs, be­cause things are look­ing up – for good. A grow­ing body of re­search is point­ing to the abil­ity of car­bo­hy­drates to help you lose weight. So in­grained is the ‘bread and pasta make you gain’ mes­sage that the idea of the op­po­site be­ing true seems noth­ing short of tom­fool­ery. Of course, the ta­bles have been turn­ing, al­beit in slo-mo, for a while now. We’ve al­ways en­cour­aged you not to be too hard on carbs – any nutri­tion ex­pert will pro­mote eat­ing across all food groups – but it was around the time when HIIT re­ally, well, hit, that ev­ery­one em­braced carbs as vi­tal for fu­elling in­tense work­outs (the fact that the tasti­est way to eat nut but­ter is clearly slathered on toast did no harm). Should you need con­vinc­ing that you should be choos­ing, rather than avoid­ing, carbs for weight loss, take a look at the science.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, sci­en­tists at the Stan­ford Pre­ven­tion Re­search Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia pub­lished the re­sults of a ma­jor study com­par­ing the va­lid­ity of low-carb and low-fat diets. While the ran­domised clin­i­cal trial mon­i­tor­ing 600 over­weight adults found no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween the two groups’ re­sults af­ter one year, the re­searchers did make an in­ter­est­ing ob­ser­va­tion – that the key to last­ing weight loss isn’t the quan­tity of food on your plate, nor the food group, but the qual­ity of that food. They found that those who cut back on added su­gar, re­fined grains and highly pro­cessed foods, while up­ping their in­take of veg­eta­bles and whole foods – carbs in­cluded – lost sig­nif­i­cant amounts of weight over the course of a year. This fol­lows the re­cent pub­li­ca­tion of a book hail­ing the power of com­plex carbs to help you lose weight. The Su­per Carb Diet by Bob Harper, PT to the likes of Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Pal­trow (and, yes, he’s the guy from Amer­ica’s Big­gest Loser, if you have the same taste in TV as us) is a diet plan based on the idea of eat­ing


carbs at ev­ery meal three times a day for 90 days. Among the car­bo­hy­drates don­ning their su­per­hero capes are the likes of brown rice, buck­wheat and bul­gar, as well as whole­grain bread and pasta; Harper rec­om­mends avoid­ing bagels, ce­re­als (ex­clud­ing oats) and dried fruit while on the plan. Con­fused? We don’t blame you. ‘The nu­tri­tional science be­hind car­bo­hy­drates and their im­pact on the body is com­plex be­cause they come in a wide va­ri­ety of forms, par­tic­u­larly in foods that are plant-based,’ ex­plains Dr Duane Mel­lor, se­nior lec­turer in hu­man nutri­tion at the

Uni­ver­sity of Coven­try and Bri­tish Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion (BDA) spokesper­son. ‘Carbs can ex­ist as any­thing from one molecule to chains of thou­sands, so the pos­si­ble com­bi­na­tions are huge.’ As reck­less as the ‘no carbs be­fore Marbs’ mantra is, it’s based on the idea that car­bculling sheds fat, and fast. Should you need a re­minder of what hap­pens to your body when you swerve carbs com­pletely, within days, your body en­ters ke­to­sis – a state where it burns fat rather than su­gar to fuel its pro­cesses. Mul­ti­ple stud­ies in­ves­ti­gat­ing low-carb diets, such as keto and Atkins, have found that they do in­deed lead to weight loss. So how can eat­ing more carbs have the same ef­fect?


In­creas­ingly, re­search is em­pha­sis­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the dif­fer­ence be­tween sim­ple and com­plex carbs – and they don’t call them com­plex for noth­ing. ‘As their name sug­gests, sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates break down in one step. When you eat a choco­late bar, the sim­ple car­bo­hy­drate su­crose mol­e­cules head di­rectly to your small in­tes­tine where they’re quickly con­verted to glu­cose and ab­sorbed into your blood­stream, caus­ing your in­sulin lev­els to quickly rise,’ ex­plains Kaitlin Colucci, reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and spokesper­son for the BDA (@the­mis­siondi­eti­tian). ‘Whereas com­plex car­bo­hy­drate mol­e­cules re­quire more work to con­vert to glu­cose. When you eat a piece of whole­grain bread or a fork­ful of whole­grain pasta, saliva sur­rounds the com­plex carb molecule and be­gins break­ing it down into mal­tose. Then an en­zyme in your in­tes­tine called amy­lase has to break it down fur­ther into smaller glu­cose mol­e­cules, at which point they can en­ter your blood­stream. This longer process causes a slower rise in your in­sulin lev­els, avoid­ing any sud­den peaks.’ In short, swap sim­ple carbs for their com­plex cousins and you’ll feel fuller for longer, mean­ing you won’t be so tempted by the 3pm su­gar mon­ster – and this guy. Carbage?

This is im­por­tant be­cause more and more re­search is point­ing to satiety, rather than de­pri­va­tion, be­ing the key to long-term weight main­te­nance. It means that, while culling all carbs (as re­stric­tive and mis­er­able as that is) might help you lose weight in the short-term, eat­ing com­plex carbs could be the key to keep­ing the weight off long-term. ‘In stud­ies that have looked at low-carb diets ver­sus low-fat diets over 12 months, it seems that, af­ter six months, peo­ple’s be­hav­iour tends to con­verge, mean­ing they start eat­ing more sim­i­lar amounts of car­bo­hy­drate, re­gard­less of which diet they’re on,’ says Dr Mel­lor. ‘Some peo­ple man­age to main­tain a low-carb diet, but oth­ers don’t. Eat­ing a range of foods sen­si­bly, in­clud­ing com­plex carbs, can avoid the risk of de­pri­va­tion and help to main­tain a feel­ing of full­ness or satiety af­ter meals.’


Re­cent re­search goes one step fur­ther, point­ing to the pow­ers of re­sis­tant starches – a spe­cific type of com­plex carb. ‘Re­sis­tant starches (RS) are not com­pletely di­gested by the hu­man body in the small in­tes­tine, and there­fore pass into the large in­tes­tine (the colon) where they un­dergo fer­men­ta­tion and form short-chain fatty acids such as bu­tyrate,’ ex­plains Paul Arciero, pro­fes­sor of health and ex­er­cise sciences at Skid­more Col­lege in New York. It’s the role of these fatty acids that is so in­trigu­ing. Pro­fes­sor Arciero led a study, pub­lished in 2015 in the jour­nal Nutri­tion, ex­plor­ing the link be­tween RS and fat burn. The re­searchers cooked a se­ries of four pancake break­fasts for 70 women (our in­vite got lost in the post, yeah?) and mon­i­tored them for three hours af­ter each meal. They found that af­ter they ate pan­cakes con­tain­ing RS plus pro­tein, they ex­pe­ri­enced a greater in­crease in fat­burn­ing com­pared with the other va­ri­eties of pan­cakes. ‘It was quite fas­ci­nat­ing that by eat­ing a car­bo­hy­drate food, in this case, pan­cakes, the body ac­tu­ally in­creased its abil­ity to burn fat,’ adds Pro­fes­sor Arciero. ‘This is very un­usual, but clearly demon­strates the abil­ity of RS to be con­verted into fatty acids, in­stead of turn­ing into blood glu­cose and be­ing stored as glyco­gen.’ If the idea of chow­ing down on pan­cakes ev­ery morn­ing and los­ing weight sounds a lit­tle far-fetched, you’re a clever one; it isn’t quite that sim­ple. ‘The long-term ef­fi­cacy of RS to aid weight loss is less clear, al­though a grow­ing body of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is show­ing promis­ing re­sults,’ con­tin­ues Pro­fes­sor Arciero. ‘What is clear is that RS en­hances fat-burn­ing (ox­i­da­tion) and in­creases good bac­te­ria in the colon, which have been shown to fa­cil­i­tate weight loss and pro­mote a healthy body com­po­si­tion.’ If your goal is to shed ki­los and then main­tain a healthy weight, then the science sug­gests con­sum­ing com­plex carbs can help you do that. Now to get ‘com­plex carbs be­fore Marbs’ to catch on.


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