The Nutritionist: Smart Carbs

Black Pasta - Ulrik De Wachter

The other day I went to lunch with a client. I couldn’t stop thinking about the amount of white pasta on his plate, and how this would send him into an after-lunch carb-sleep. But is pasta really a food that deserves to be on the nutritional blacklist?

I see a lot of female clients who have become no-carb crazy, living on a diet of yoghurt, cheese, meat and eggs, and putting the likes of pasta, potatoes and bread into the ‘bad food’ category. Somehow these foods have fallen victim to the false premise that carbohydrate consumption equals weight gain.

This whole no-/low-carb thing has gone out of control, and I think it’s time to take these foods off the nutritional blacklist. Why the bad rap? Carbohydrates are one of the main energy booster nutrients that our body requires in order to keep going. Choosing the right kind of carbohydrates provides you with a rich source of vitamins, which the body needs for a host of circulatory, immune and endocrine functions, as well as healthy cell growth and repair.

So what are the right kinds of carbohydrates? Complex carbohydrates instead simple carbohydrates, which tend to be stripped of nutrients and are high in sugar. I refer to simple carbohydrates as everything sweet, white and fluffy, i.e. white rice, white pasta, white bread, biscuits, bagels, or muffins. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains where the bran (fibre), germ (protein, vitamins and minerals) and endosperm (starch) are all still present. Whole grains are also rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart.

Eaten regularly, complex carbohydrates found in whole grain pasta, brown rice or whole grain bread do not lead to weight gain, unless they are eaten to excess. (And eating too much of anything and not burning it off through physical activity will lead to weight gain.)

I am not one who believes in restriction. If you like pasta and bread, by all means, keep them in your diet. Just make sure you choose a whole grain version, only eat one serving (as opposed to a whole plate), and make sure you eat them with vegetables and protein to keep the meal balanced.

As for my client, I found out the other day that he's training for the Berlin marathon, and the carb-loading was intended to increase his glycogen storage for prolonged energy.