Do I need to cut carbs from my diet?

Over the years there have been numerous diet trends- juice fasts, Weight Watchers, The Grapefruit Diet, Atkins Diet, South Beach diet, Zone diet, Raw food diet, Dukan diet and now recently the focus seems to be on cutting carbs from the diet. But what are we talking about when we say carbohydrates (or carbs)? Often people may just associate carbs with bread and pasta but in reality, carbohydrates refer to the sugars, starches and fibre found in all grains, cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy products.

While cutting carbs may result in weight loss, it is not the reduction in carbs but the overall reduction in your energy intake that causes this- in the same way any of the above diets work. When we decrease energy intake or increase energy output- whether that be by cutting out food groups, reducing fat intake, reducing carb intake or increasing exercise- we will generally lose weight. That being said, when you eat a balanced diet (and yes this can include carbohydrates!), honour your hunger and fullness cues and move your body regularly, your weight will find its happiest and healthiest place.

When you exclude carbs from your diet you may notice the number on the scale trend down fairly quickly, but this isn’t necessarily coming from a loss in fat tissue. Carbohydrates are stored in muscle tissue as muscle glycogen. This stored carbohydrate also retains water. So, this initial fast weight loss on a low carbohydrate diet is often just fluid loss and reduced muscle carbohydrate stores rather than fat mass.

If you are thinking about cutting carbohydrates from your diet you may first want to consider the role they serve in the body. Carbohydrates provide fuel, not just for exercise but also for your brain and immune cells. You know that flat feeling you may get mid run or sports game, that’s your body running low on carbohydrate. You wouldn’t expect your car to get very far without enough fuel and carbs are to your body what petrol is to a car.

Most carbohydrate containing foods are also great sources of fibre. Foods like sweet potato, brown rice, oats, legumes and fruit provide a good dose of fibre which supports a healthy gut microbiome (think regular bowel movements and satiation from meals). Also, who doesn’t love fresh baked bread or tropical fruit? By cutting carbs out, you are not only negatively impacting your energy levels and impairing your gut health but you are also likely to be missing out on much loved foods!

Instead of avoiding carbs in your diet all together, consider checking your portion sizes. As carbohydrate foods are super palatable and usually easy to prepare, many people tend to overeat them. Considering carbs are fuel, our intake should match our energy expenditure. I.e. more carbs on days we are more active, less on other days. For instance, as a baseline you may include 2 slices of grainy bread at breakfast, ½ cup of brown rice at lunch, 2 pieces of fruit per day in your snacks and 1 cup of cooked pasta at dinner. On days you are more active these quantities increase. On particularly low activity days they may decrease. Also consider varying up your carbohydrate sources- e.g., try brown rice, basmati rice, potato, sweet potato, quinoa, lentils rather than always having white rice!