Carbohydrates: be Balanced, not Fearful

bess-kirkpatrick-mason I feel sympathy for the old carbohydrates. They are so badly reputed that they often get put into the ‘cannot’ category before they can even defend themselves. Believe me, I’ve had my fearful days, months – years, perhaps – about carbohydrates. It’s taken time and research to help me understand how to utilise carbohydrates as fuel for my body. But I would like to share some truths that may be fresh and encouraging information. Dare I say it? Whole intact grains, tubers, legumes, rice and even potatoes are all foods that I now eat more regularly, and enjoy more than ever before. My health and vitality are better for it. Truly, with more words to spare I could share my personal account! Carbohydrates, in a nutshell (or should I say in a wheat husk), are the most efficient source of energy for your human body. Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose (blood sugar) and your body NEEDS this glucose for energy for your organs, your tissues, your cells. This is so important to remember: It is impossible to survive without (the right amount of) glucose in your blood and in each body cell! To make carbohydrates, plants trap the sun’s energy inside molecules of glucose. When you eat plants, your digestive system breaks the carbohydrate back down into glucose, which travels through your bloodstream into your cells. The cells then process this glucose, releasing the captured energy and to use for fuel. What lovely efficiency! For those of you who have a fear of carbohydrates, think of it this way: you’re eating sunshine! In essence, this is the sun’s energy in a form we can eat. Oh, bless. Ponder this, especially if the word ‘carbohydrate’ strikes fear into your very soul… ALL PLANTS are carbohydrate sources. YES, ALL. This means that an extremely low-carb or a no-carb diet means an extremely low- or no- plant diet. And I hope that the majority of our readers esteem whole, plant-based eating. A thought or two further: a serve of our much-loved kumara contains more carbohydrates than the humble potato, as well as more than 2 slices of wholemeal bread. This information is not intended to make you tremble, but to embrace the Kiwi favourite (and all root vegetables) in a balanced amount. Stoke your digestive fire, friends. Whole wheat, rye and barley are gorgeous pre-biotic foods that increase good gut bacteria. The very serious issues of coeliac disease aside, grains (many of which are gluten-free) are nutritional powerhouses with their vitamins, mineral, fibres and even proteins! Let me be clear; I am the last person in the world to recommend highly processed carbohydrates. There are many imposters that give good carbohydrates a bad name. For example – white refined flours, sugars, lists of preservatives that no-one can pronounce, are all highly refined carbohydrates with very minimal intact nutrients. These are a tremendous force leading to epidemic obesity, chronic disease and decreased quality of life. I love good fats; I love quality protein; I don’t eat a high carbohydrate diet; I eat moderate amounts to fuel my body optimally. Close-up of buckwheat noodles with aubergine, beans and sesame So, what next? Firstly, let’s stop going nutty when we hear ‘carbohydrates’. They will not kill you! Instead, eaten appropriately, they can boost your energy, sustain your focus, increase digestive health and give you a greater appreciation for the wide variety of beautiful whole foods available to us. I feel saddened by diets that remove food groups from the mainframe of a person’s intake. No food group is wholly bad. It’s how we achieve balance. Imagine the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and the plethora of good food from this earth you are avoiding that can truly be great fuel for your body. Pointers for Carb-Appreciation: – Beautiful sustaining whole grains and complex carbohydrates are great energy sources: explore them! – Prioritise the real and untainted options. For example, your body doesn’t need 10 pieces of commercial white bread in a day. Maybe it does need a few slices of homemade wholemeal bread, though. (Try to make some! It’s a fun and creative way to get yourself back in the kitchen!) – Eat carbohydrates at each meal. Steel-cut oats for breakfast with fresh berries and coconut yoghurt! Wild rice salad with Asian greens, chilli and poached chicken for lunch! Or perhaps baked kumara at dinnertime with some white fish and greens. – Eat slowly, and allow your body to digest what you have fed it. – Move and utilise your fuel! We weren’t made to be sedentary beings. Fuel well to move well! – Mindfulness, balance, variety and joy are the perfect blend that will sustain and optimise your energy. Be balanced, not scared! Till next time, Bess x

  • I am happy to discuss quantities further, as well as carbohydrates for individuals with coeliac disease and for different lifestyles. We all have a different body to fuel and so I have not given average quantities for this reason.
  • Carbohydrates and food security: a quick note for those concerned with food sustainability and looking after our earth. The environment cannot keep up with grain-free demands. A worthy conversation. If this spikes your interest, please feel free to contact me!