There is lots of confusion around carbohydrates. Everyday I chat to clients who say funny things about carbohydrates like:

“Today I ate this massive bread roll. It was delicious but I know that it’s too much carbs and bread is bad, right?”

Or “I can’t believe the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends eating fruit. Don’t they know that fruit is full of sugar?”

Or how about “gosh I love pasta! But how bad is it for you!? I ate a whole bowl the other day and felt sooo guilty about it!”

We’re confused about the types of food carbohydrates are found in.  About how much we should be eating overall. Confused about sugar (a type of carbohydrate). Confused about grain-based foods (primarily containing carbohydrate). And to top it all off we feel guilty when we eat them!

It’s no wonder we’re confused. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet is an expert on carbs. I’m pretty sure some people just make up their own science! Not to mention the attention low-carb diets get in the media and from ‘experts’ online. Even ‘click bate’ headlines, designed to make you click through to the article with their ‘shock value’ headlines are making us confused.

A few years ago an article with the headline: “Why bananas for breakfast are a bad idea.” was published by news.com.au. In the weeks following this article, I fielded so many questions from worried clients who were eating bananas for breakfast. Which is, by the way, totally fine to do.

With all this conflicting information, how are you supposed to know what’s right for you? The truth is you can’t truly know, because most of the information that you read online lacks context.

You see, good nutrition advice, the type that you can immediately apply to your life and implement, needs context. Everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Food preferences, underlying medical conditions, food prep skills, activity levels, muscle and fat mass, all vary and mean that the carbohydrate intake that’s right for you, may not be right for another person.

It’s also important to note that it’s highly unlikely that there is just ONE way that you, as an individual, should be eating. In fact, a recent, high quality study showed no significant weight loss differences between low-fat and low-carb diets and neither genetics nor insulin production could predict weight-loss success on either diet.

In the end, the best healthy diet for you is the one that you can follow consistently. Provided it contains the key nutrition principles, you can pretty much eat whatever way suits you best!

In saying that, here are 3 scenarios where a low-carb diet could be considered as your dietary approach of choice.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a silent (no symptoms) metabolic condition where your body has to make super high levels of insulin to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Left-untreated, insulin resistance results in type 2 diabetes.

The treatment for insulin resistance should involve all of the following:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Regular exercise – including resistance exercise 
  3. Reducing the carbohydrate load on the body

The study I mentioned above, indicates that either dietary approach will work for weight loss, regardless of your insulin levels. When you’re insulin resistant weigh loss is a good thing. However, there is other evidence to suggest that reducing your carbohydrate intake and subsequently reducing the carbohydrate load on the body may help to directly manage your insulin resistance along with the weight loss.

If you sought individual advice from our dieticians, they’re likely to suggest a dietary pattern that not only helps you lose weight but also reduce your carbohydrate load with both portion sizes and carbohydrate quality. We can also refer you for a blood test for insulin resistance so you can catch it early and reverse the trend before it tips over into type 2 diabetes.

Highly Sedentary Lifestyle

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. When you run, jump, skip or do anything that is medium to high intensity, your muscles are primarily burning carbohydrate to do so.

If you’re not able to exercise at the moment or your lifestyle is highly sedentary and you spend LOTS of time sitting, you may benefit from a lower-carbohydrate diet.

A one-on-one session with our dieticians would be able to give you an idea of how much carbohydrate that looks like for you based on your daily energy needs.

Preference for high fat foods

Do you like high fat foods? Butter, higher fat meats, full-cream dairy, nuts, seeds, avocado, aioli? If you have a preference for higher fat foods, in that you like to eat them regularly, you might find that a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet works better for you long term. Just remember that fats are energy dense, containing more calories per gram than protein or carbs. This means they can add up quickly.

Finding an eating pattern that nails the nutritional basics but ultimately suits your food preferences is a great way to stick to something long term.

Key take home points:

  • It’s important to remember two things here:
  1. There is more to a healthy diet than just carbs. Your body needs fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fluid as well, so don’t lose the forest for the trees and keep looking at the big picture.
  2. A low carbohydrate diet doesn’t mean a no carbohydrate diet. Despite what other, less qualified people say, you do NOT need to completely cut out high carbohydrate foods to eat a low-carbohydrate diet.
  • Your diet must be sustainable and suit your lifestyle long term. If you can’t stick to a particular diet plan or eating philosophy chances are it’s not the answer you’ve been looking for. Not everything is about having the willpower to stick at something. You need to find habits, routines and behaviours that suit your lifestyle long term and promote healthy choices as easy and convenient.
  • Individualised advice can be the best way to find the right carbohydrate amount for you.

If you’re looking for further evidence based information on carbs check out: