Carbs have been the subject of plenty of bad press in recent years. But are they such a nutritional baddie?
We ask Clinical Nutritionist Alex Glover to shed some light on some common carb misconceptions.
Myth #1: Carbs make you fat
Truth: Carbs do not make you fat. Eating too many calories for an extended period is what makes you gain weight
People often say, “I cut out carbs and lost weight” and assume it must have been quitting carbs that did it. But, by cutting out carbs, you cut many foods that are high in calories such as breads, pasta, cakes and biscuits.
So, by cutting out carbs you are more likely to reduce calories.
Myth #2: Eating carbs stops you burning fat
Truth: This is an oversimplification. While it may be correct that when you eat carbs, you do temporarily stop burning fat, this is because you have carbohydrate available that needs to be burned.
Dietary fat is actually far more likely to be stored as fat than carbohydrates. When you are eating too many calories the fat you are eating will be stored first, and the carbohydrates will be burned first.
Myth #3: Carbs make you hungry
Truth: They don’t. Carbs that are high in fibre (complex carbs aka ‘good’ carbs) will actually fill you up, as fibre can slow down the rate at which food leaves your stomach.
A simple way of looking at appetite control is the ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’. When you eat carbs, your blood sugar raises and then when it comes down again you get hungry. Refined carbs, or ‘simple’ carbs make your blood sugar go up faster and down faster. Sounds simple, right?
Actually, no. There are so many other factors that go into appetite regulation. For instance, the simple carbohydrates in foods like biscuits, cakes and sugary snacks taste good, which stimulates neurological pathways in our brain that tell us to eat more.
Other things that influence your appetite are, activity levels, genetics, meal composition, emotional eating and body fat levels.
Funnily enough, a potato raises your blood sugar very quickly but is ranked as the most filling food on the satiety index (which measures how much a food makes you feel full), further highlighting that there is far more to your appetite than the raising and dropping of blood sugar.
Myth #4: Carbs make you tired
Truth: People often complain of the ‘carb coma’ – that 3pm slump after lunch that gets attributed to eating too many carbs. This feeling is actually called ‘post prandial somnolence’ and is simply more energy and blood being directed to your digestive system, so you feel tired. When people cut out carbs, they often say that they’re not tired after meals. But they have probably reduced the total energy of that meal thus resulting in less post prandial somnolence.
Studies have shown that higher fat meals can make you feel sleepier, possibly attributed to the hormone cholecystokinin, which is needed for fat and protein digestion.
Myth #5: You shouldn’t eat carbs after 6pm
Truth: The notion that after 6pm your body just turns all carbs into fat is not true at all.
Scientists are currently studying ‘chrononutrition’ – ‘chrono’ being Latin for time-related. This looks at the effects of meal timing on metabolism, and there is a lot of emerging data showing that meal timing can affect your body’s response to calories. There is a lot of conflicting information about whether the time of day you are eating matters but there is a lack of solid data from human studies on this. The best advice is just to make sure you are eating an appropriate amount of calories and eating these whenever fits best in your lifestyle. Adherence to any diet is the number one factor dictating success, so don’t get too hung up on timings.
Myth #6: Carbs are addictive
Truth: There is no evidence at all that any one food is addictive. What can be addictive is people’s behaviours around food. Conditioned responses, like the 11am snack, eating on the sofa, eating due to emotion are the habits that could possibly be considered addictive, but again the science is inconclusive.
Last updated: 31 March 2020
Alex Glover is an MNU certified nutritionist and currently completing his MSc in Clinical Nutrition.
He is extremely passionate about evidence-based nutrition, with an emphasis on eating whole foods and regular physical activity. Alex has experience working with clients with a variety of health concerns, from obesity, sports performance, & ageing, he has also worked in store and at our head office, meaning he has experience dealing with a wide range of customer questions and health concerns. His particulate areas of interest are cardiovascular disease, exercise physiology and chronobiology.