Carbohydrate Phobia: Go Enjoy Your Toast!

Quoting Hannah Devlin,  the Science Editor of the Times; she  claims that nearly half of women say that they feel guilty about eating carbohydrates, despite their essential role in a healthy diet.

 A survey of 3,000 people found that women were twice as likely as men to suffer from ‘carb guilt’, even though they were more likely to be a healthy weight.  Nearly everyone I treat for an eating disorder considers carbs to be poison. But is this making us thinner?  Nowadays about 65 % of men and 58 % of women in Britain are overweight or obese, compared with 58 %and 49 % respectively in  1993.

Holidays like Christmas are becoming increasingly  indulgent with the average person having about 6,000 kcal on  Christmas day and an extra 500 kcals daily during the festive period, according to the British Dietetic Association. I’m not sure whether this includes alcohol which is consumed in enormous quantities during the holidays. Whatever, it leads to an average weight gain of about 5lb by the beginning of the new year.

 My niece who lives usually in the USA has visited London this January and expressed alarm at the number of dieting programmes she has seen on TV and in the papers. She says that there is nothing like it back home. A big part of this includes a recommendation to banish carbs from our diet as an effective way to lose weight quickly, despite clinicians saying that  this can be harmful.

 Jane Ogden, a professor in health psychology at the University of Surrey who is involved in this research  said  that people are irrationally demonising carbohydrates. “If they realise that carbohydrates have an essential part in  their diets, not only for energy but also  for building long-term sustainable healthy habits, then carbohydrates can  resume their place as a central part of how they eat”, she said.

Most people are unaware of how much carbohydrate they should be eating .  The recommended daily allowance is 250g – around half of a person’s daily calories – but when asked what that might amount to in food, most people significantly underestimated it.  A correct balance would be a bowl of breakfast cereal, two slices of bread, one plate of pasta and three oatcakes. That is what we could and should be eating. Basically, that is what I eat.

A recent Horizon investigation into the effects of a fat versus carbohydrate diet shows that you can live very well on carbohydrates, regulate your insulin very well – despite claims to the contrary – and also lose weight.

 But that’s not what people think. We have been taught from the 1950s onwards to fear the humble carb. Of those questioned, 1 in 10 women said they felt guilty all the time about the amount of carbohydrates they ate and about a quarter said they would avoid them in the week to allow themselves to indulge at the weekend.

 Instead of trying to cut out carbohydrate, Professor Ogden – and me too – say that the focus should be on mostly avoiding food with a lot of added sugar, and trying to include foods with healthy complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. I say mostly because one piece of cake won’t hurt you now and then.

A diet low in carbs can make people feel permanently  hungry, which can lead to snacking and grazing on foods full of fat and simple sugars.  People feel that they are denying themselves the foods they really want to eat and , in the end, most people end up over-eating the very foods they are trying to avoid.

This, in turn, results in feelings of guilt and the need to deprive oneself again.  Ultimately, it becomes an unhealthy, vicious cycle”.

So, we are afraid of fat and we are afraid of carbs. Neither it appears will hurt you. It is only when they are stuck together in processed foods that they seem to do us harm. And booze, that’s another matter for another blog.  So go and enjoy your toast.