Carbs seem to have landed themselves a bad reputation in recent years, which is a shame because they're extremely tasty—especially when served with cheese. But because it's been a good few years since any of us studied Biology, we thought we'd chat to nutritionist Katie Peck, who runs Peck Nutrition and is based at at Benenden Hospital in Kent, to find out everything we need to know about most people's favorite food group:
1. You'd be running on empty without them.
Basically, carbohydrates provide all the fuel you need to the cells in your body. Katie clarifies that "the human body can use fats and proteins as a fuel, however carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy as they provide fuel to all the cells in the body."
You might recall having studied this at school, but for anyone who's forgotten, here's it all works. Carbohydrates are broken down in our digestive system to simple sugars, e.g. glucose, which is absorbed into the blood in this simplest form and gives us all the energy we need to go about our daily lives.
2. They contain protein, too.
Here's a fun fact: carbs aren't just made up of carbohydrates. As Katie explains, "carbs are mostly plant foods which have a higher level of carbohydrate than protein and fat per 100g." Sweet potatoes, for example, are labeled carbs because they contain majority carbohydrates, but they do actually have some grams of protein in there, too.
3. It's not a good idea to cut them out of your diet.
As mentioned above, carbs turn into glucose following digestion, which fuels the cells in the body. But when it comes to the brain, glucose is its most vital source of energy, which means the less carbohydrate you eat, the more fatigued you'll feel. I always knew a bowl of pasta at the end of a long, tiring day was a good idea.
Cutting out carbohydrates from your diet could also be very damaging long-term. Katie explains: "Over the long term your body begins breaking down other fuels for energy and you can lose muscle tissue."
4. How many carbs you eat daily should be dependent on your body weight.
While the nutritionist notes the figure does vary from person-to-person, she says you should aim for between 2-5g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. "Nutrition is individualized, but for the average person, 100g of cooked pasta for an evening meal would be sufficient," she advises.
Other factors to consider include your individual energy and fat loss goals, with Katie noting: "It's important to understand how much you need to eat to achieve a balanced diet for you."
This sounds like a pretty obvious statement, but here's why too many carbs might lead to weight gain. Whatever energy you don't use gets stored, essentially. "If you eat too many carbohydrates, you may increase your overall sugar intake as many hidden sugars are found within carbohydrate rich foods," explains the nutritionist.
"If you exceed your daily energy quota you may also gain weight," she adds. "Carbohydrates alone won't make you fat, you will only gain body fat if you exceed your energy intake for the day. However, if you do eat too many carbs—your protein and fat intakes may be decreased so it’s best to keep everything in balance."
Portion control, people. Portion control.
6. Some carbs are healthier than others.
If you're hoping to improve your health, opt for brown carbs over white ones. This is because "Wholegrain carbs (such as wholegrain rice) have a lower GI (Glycemic Index—you can learn what that is here) than standard white rice," says Katie. Likewise, wholegrain bread is a better choice than white bread
And the less processed, the better. "You want to go for the least processed carbohydrates, for example oats would be a healthier breakfast option than porridge with added sugar," notes the nutritionist.
7. Carbs help keep you regular.
Who knew carbohydrates were a secret source of fiber, too? The dark horses. "One health benefit of eating carbohydrates is fiber consumption. Fiber is found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables and help to regulate the body’s use of sugars, aids digestion and is an essential part of a balanced diet," says Katie.
8. It's what you have WITH your carbs that can make you put on weight.
Carbs get a helluva lot of bad press, but Katie points out it's often less to do with the carb itself, but more what you serve with it that causes weight gain. Er, like cheese. "A person might have a rich creamy carbonara sauce on their pasta or lots of butter on their potato," says the nutritionist. "These all add a significant amount of calories to a diet and this can lead to weight gain."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.