The key to understanding carbs as part of your diet

They may fall in and out of favour with the diet brigade, but carbs are very worthy of their place at the table. Rob Hobson helps explain why...

Balance is key – it's highly processed foods and not diets containing unprocessed foods that are the problem

CONFUSED about carbs? One minute they're 'bad', then they're 'good' again (or should that be the other way round?!). Many of the most publicised diet plans of recent years – from Atkins to Paleo and Dukan, and everything in-between – have seen carbohydrates demonised, either chucking them off the menu entirely, or allowing them, but with strict (and sometimes mind-boggling) 'rules' and restrictions.

A recent Mayo Clinic study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found low-carb diets are more effective for weight-loss than low-fat diets – though the difference was small and of questionable clinical significance – and also, they could only conclude that low-carb diets are safe to follow for up to six months.

The team, led by Dr Heather Fields MD, analysed a decade of research on popular low-carb regimes, and highlighted that not enough is really known about the potential long-term effects.

So labelling any single food group 'good' or 'bad' isn't really that helpful, and any diet that advocates risking potential nutritional shortfalls for the sake of fast weight-loss should probably be approached with a generous portion of caution. After all, carbs play a central role in keeping us fuelled – and therefore fully functioning – which is pretty important, right?

We asked Rob Hobson, Healthspan head of nutrition and author of The Detox Kitchen Bible, for his thoughts on the matter. Here are five key points about carbs Rob thinks everybody should remember...

1. Carbs haven't 'caused' our weight problems

"Humans have been eating carbohydrate foods for a very long time, and only in the last few decades have we seen an explosion in obesity and [the number of people who are] overweight, so they cannot be solely made responsible for weight gain."

2. The processed factor

"It's highly processed foods rich in refined carbohydrates, including sugar, and not diets containing unprocessed foods that have contributed to obesity and disease among populations around the world."

3. What's in a carb?

"Starchy root vegetables, such as butternut squash, are lower in carbohydrates than other foods, such as white refined grains, and have the added benefit of being higher in fibre, which helps to keep you feeling full as well as protecting you against the risk of heart disease and certain cancers."

4. Complex matters

"Although beans and pulses are often associated with being a vegetarian source of protein, they are also a source of complex carbohydrates (high in fibre). This group of foods contain about half the carbohydrate content of white refined grains and are one of the richest sources of fibre. Beans and pulses also contain more iron, zinc and calcium than refined white grains, which is invaluable for people who do not eat meat or dairy foods. You can serve beans and pulses whole by throwing them into salads, soups and stews, or you can mash them to serve as a low carbohydrate accompaniment."

5. Go with the grain

"Oats are a wholegrain and make for a highly nutritious breakfast and contain fewer carbohydrates than many other breakfast cereals that are often loaded with quickly digested sugars. Oats also contain a greater amount of protein and fibre than many other breakfast cereal options, which work together to help maintain fullness."

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