"Carbs" are a hotly debated topic, especially in the weight-loss world, due in part to diets such as the Atkins, Dukan, South Beach and Ketogenic Diet.
The idea that "carbs are bad" has left many people confused about carbohydrates and their importance for our health, including maintaining a healthy weight.
Carbohydrates a broad category and not all carbs are the same. It's the type, quality and quantity of carbohydrate in our diet that's important.
There is strong evidence that fibre, found in wholegrain versions of starchy carbs, for example, is good for our health.
What are carbs?
Carbohydrates are 1 of 3 macronutrients (nutrients that form a large part of our diet) found in food. The others are fat and protein.
Hardly any foods contain only 1 nutrient, and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts.
There are 3 different types of carbohydrates found in food: sugar, starch and fibre.
The type of sugars that most adults and children in the UK eat too much of are called free sugars.
These are sugars that are added to food or drinks, such as biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks.
The sugars in honey, syrups (such as maple, agave and golden syrup), nectars (such as blossom), and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies happen naturally, but these still count as free sugars.
Starch is found in foods that come from plants. Starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
Fibre is found in the cell walls of foods that come from plants. Good sources of fibre include fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, and pulses (beans and lentils).
How much carbohydrate should I eat?
The government's healthy eating advice, illustrated by the Eatwell Guide, recommends that just over a third of your diet should be made up of starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, and over another third should be fruit and vegetables.
This means that over half of your daily calorie intake should come from starchy foods, fruit and vegetables.
Why do we need carbs?
Carbohydrates are important to your health for several reasons.
Carbohydrates should be your body's main source of energy in a healthy, balanced diet.
They're broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into your blood. The glucose then enters your body's cells with the help of insulin.
Glucose is used by your body for energy, fuelling your activities, whether that's going for a run or simply breathing.
Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen, which is found in the liver and muscles.
If more glucose is consumed than can be stored as glycogen, it's converted to fat for long-term storage of energy.
Starchy carbohydrates that are high in fibre release glucose into the blood slower than sugary foods and drinks.
Fibre is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. It can promote good bowel health, reduce the risk of constipation, and some forms of fibre have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
Research shows diets high in fibre are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.
Many people do not get enough fibre. On average, most adults in the UK get about 19g of fibre a day. Adults are advised to eat an average of 30g a day.
The recommended fibre intake for children can vary from 15g to 30g, depending on their age.
Carbohydrate contains fewer calories gram for gram than fat; 4 calories (4kcal) per gram for carbs and 9 calories (9kcal) per gram for fat. Also, starchy foods can be a good source of fibre, which means they can be a useful part of maintaining a healthy weight.
By replacing fatty, sugary foods and drinks with higher fibre starchy foods, it's more likely you'll reduce the number of calories in your diet. Also, high-fibre foods add bulk to your meal, helping you feel full.
Should I cut out carbohydrates?
While we can survive without sugar, it would be difficult to eliminate carbohydrates entirely from your diet.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. In their absence, your body will use protein and fat for energy.
It may also be hard to get enough fibre, which is important for long-term health.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as higher fibre starchy foods, vegetables, fruit and legumes, are also an important source of nutrients, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Significantly reducing carbohydrates from your diet in the long term could mean you do not get enough nutrients, potentially leading to health problems.
Replacing carbohydrates with fats and higher fat sources of protein could increase your intake of saturated fat, which can raise the amount of cholesterol in your blood – a risk factor for heart disease.
When you're low on glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy. This process causes a build-up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis.
This can cause headaches, weakness, feeling sick, dehydration, dizziness and irritability.
Try to limit the amount of sugary foods you eat and instead include healthier sources of carbohydrate in your diet, such as wholegrains, potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and legumes.
Diabetes and low-carb diets
There is evidence that low-carb diets are safe and effective in the short-term for most people with type 2 diabetes. They help with weight loss, diabetes control and reducing risk of complications.
It's recommended you talk to a GP or your care team before starting a low-carb diet as it's not suitable for everyone with type 2 diabetes. Your care team should provide advice on how many carbs you should eat. Diabetes UK also provides a 7-day low-carb meal plan on its website.
It's also important to be aware of possible side effects of a low-carb diet, such as low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
There is no evidence that a low-carb diet is more effective in the long-term for people with type 2 diabetes than other types of diet such as a reduced-calorie diet.
There is currently no strong evidence that low-carb diets are effective for people with type 1 diabetes.
Low-carb diets are not recommended for children with diabetes as they might affect growth.
So eat your carbs guys!!!!!