4 July 2006
PILE ON THE PASTA IT'S GOOD FOR YOU!
NOT ONLY DO CARBS HELP YOU STAY SLIM, THEY COULD HELP YOU LIVE LONGER, TOO. HERE'S HOW..
By Madeleine Bailey
THE FAT MYTH
LET'S get one thing straight: carbs don't make you fat. End of story. There are only four calories in a gram of carbs, compared with nine in the same quantity of fat.
It's what you eat with the carbs that can send your calorie intake soaring.
For instance a medium portion (230g) of plain, cooked white pasta contains just 239 calories - but add the creamy carbonara sauce and you've just upped your intake by a whopping 700. And, of course, eating lots of cream, a saturated fat, is bad for your heart.
Likewise, if you go for a curry and freely tuck into white basmati rice (276 calories for a 200g portion), you won't want quite so much creamy, fat-laden chicken korma. So again you'll end up eating fewer calories and less fat.
State-registered dietitian Juliette Kellow says: "Weight gain is simply the result of taking in more calories than you burn off, regardless of whether they're from fats, carbs or protein. To maintain his weight, the average man needs around 2,500 calories a day and the average woman around 2,000."
Carbs are broken down by the body into sugar and used as its chief source of energy. The theory behind low-carb diets such as Atkins was that by restricting intake of carbohydrates the body is forced to burn its stores of fat rather than sugar for energy.
Although many people had good initial weight loss on this diet, most experts agree that much of it was down to a combination of water loss and reduced calorie intake.
"Long-term studies have found that after six months to a year the Atkins diet was no more effective than a traditional low-fat diet," says Juliette.
SO how do carbs actually help keep you slim? Basically, they fill you up so you're not tempted to snack all the time. "Good" carbs such as oats, brown rice, basmati rice and wholemeal bread and pasta release energy slowly, keeping you fuller for longer and so stemming your appetite.
"If you're not eating enough carbs, you'll be low on energy, and this causes food cravings, usually for high-calorie, fatty and sugary foods that will give you an instant hit," says Juliette.
This is the basis behind the low-GI diet, the weight-loss craze of the moment, which advocates getting most of your carbohydrates from foods that take a long time to be converted to sugar. The rate at which this happens is measured on a scale known as the glycaemic index (GI), with points from one to 100.
Anything below 55 is considered low' 55 to 70, medium' and above 70, high (log on to www.weightlossresources.co.uk
for more details).
Studies show that people on the low-GI diet report are less hungry than those on other diets. And it's not rocket science that if you're looking to lose weight a diet is much easier to follow if you're not constantly starving and fantasising about chocolate and crisps.
Other studies support the theory that certain types of carbs - fibre and whole grains - help weight control. In particular, one 10-year US study of 3,000 adults showed that the group with the highest fibre intake gained less weight than the group that ate least fibre.
WHY YOU NEED THEM
CARBS are also essential for...
ENERGY: They provide the body's main source of energy, which is why people on low-carb diets often feel tired, weak and irritable.
HEART HEALTH: Fibre is known to reduce levels of cholesterol, a fatty substance in the blood which can clog up in the arteries, increasing risk of heart disease.
KEEPING YOU REGULAR: Fibre helps the passage of food through the gut, keeping the digestive system healthy and preventing constipation.
REDUCING CANCER RISK: Fruit and veg, good sources of carbs, are packed with antioxidant vitamins and minerals known to fight cell damage that leads to serious diseases such as cancer.
WHAT'S GOOD, WHAT'S NOT: Carbs should make up 50 per cent of your dietary intake, fat 35 per cent and protein 15 per cent. But the key is to eat the right sort of carbohydrate. It's the processed carbs such as white bread, cakes and biscuits that are the baddies.
Because these foods are refined, they're quickly broken down in the body, resulting in a surge in blood sugar levels followed by a sudden drop.
Eat too many of them and you'll end up on a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and in the long-term you could be increasing your risk of diabetes. Eat them only occasionally and, if possible, with foods such as meat, fish or veg to reduce the effects on blood sugar.
Most of our carb intake should come from fibre and whole grains, but we don't eat enough, according to the Medical Research Council.
So we should be trying to include more bran flakes, Weetabix, oats, wholemeal bread, brown rice, pasta and fruit and veg in our diets, and when baking we should use wholewheat flour for cakes, biscuits and pastry.