PLAY YOUR CARBS RIGHT
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
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
SATIETY IS THE KEY TO LONG-TERM WEIGHT CONTROL
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?
A TALE OF TWO CARBS
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.’
POWERLESS TO RESIST
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.
THE KEY TO LASTING WEIGHT LOSS IS QUALITY OF FOOD, NOT QUANTITY