Carb Delusions



If it’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching nutrition for over 25 years, is that nutrition is never about food.

Nutrition is always about emotions, beliefs, what we’ve grown up with and mostly, what we think is normal.

In countries like Australia, many have grown up on a menu of cereal & toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, a “healthy” carb snack like a muffin or muesli (granola) bar at mid morning and afternoon, then home to a pasta or rice dish and probably more bread for dinner.

The latest Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines suggest at least 4-6 servings every day of these energy rich foods.

What’s wrong with these “healthy” eating recommendations that most of us consider normal?

Well, for starters, we’re less active than we’ve ever been - only one-third of Australian adults exercise regularly. Over 67% of Australians have weight issues, 35% of which have type-2 diabetes  - a condition that has now surpassed smoking as our No1 cause of premature morbidity.[1]

An even bigger problem…

Contemporary research points towards blood sugar control as a key to better health. That is, poor glycemic control appears to be an underlying cause of oxidative stress that damages tissues, promotes insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and unwanted weight gain - the impact of which costs 37-56 billion a year from a host of related health problems [2].

When it comes to carbs, neurological research shows many of us suffer from potion distortion [3]. The human brain likes to systematically block out our mistakes, particularly ones that might embarrass us [4]. Additionally, the more carbs we eat, we’re likely to want more [5].

Combined with the fact we’ve never in our history had such easy access to such a wide variety, it can be easy to lose track of how much we actually consume each day.

For these reasons I think the eating patterns many of us consider normal are in fact killing us prematurely.

How do we get these “healthy” eating recommendations under some sort of control?

Unlike protein, there is no RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for carbohydrate. Recommendations for carbohydrates are based on a number of “servings” and to “eat more” if you are active [6].

I think most of us have absolutely no idea how easy it is to consume too much of some, and not enough of others.

So this week I wanted to give you some clear visuals on the amount of carbohydrate contained within some of our most popular choices.

Every plate in this picture provides a food source that yields 25 grams of carbohydrate.

Just one-third (uncooked) cup of pasta will give you over 25 grams of carbs.

Just one-quarter (uncooked) cup of rice (all varieties) smashes the 25 gram mark also.

Now who eats JUST one-quarter of a cup at one sitting??

Time to ‘fess up?

When you choose to base your diet around these foods, its so easy to consume more than you need.

Just one and a half slices of healthy wholewheat bread provides over 25 grams of carbs - that's not even a complete sandwich.

Now contrast the amount of vegetables you’d have to consume to obtain the same 25 grams of carbs.

If its your basic mixed veggies, you’d have to eat one kilogram!

Yep, one kilogram of most mix veg will barely provide 25-30 grams of carbohydrate.

If it’s the green stuff only, then you can eat even more! 

And if we are talking salads, take a look at my video to see how much you’d have to eat, just to obtain 25 grams of carbohydrate.

It’s one heck of a salad.

The message here is not about shunning your favorite carb foods. It's more about a shift in focus to a much wider variety and volume of choices you need for better health and body shape.

Before you go blaming your hormones, your thyroid, your blood type, your job, or your poor personal trainer for your lack of progress in the fat loss department, realize two important things.

Your normal might not be working for you, but that’s okay, there are lots of other normals that will.

Read more about how to choose the right carbs and when, here.

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1. National Nutrition & Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS), 2011-12, published May 2014.

2. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Guide 1, page 12-20 (2013) NHMRC Ref N55

3. Schwartz J, Byrd-Bredbenner C. Portion distortion: typical portion sizes selected by young adults. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Sep;106(9):1412-8.

4. Dekker SW. Reconstructing human contributions to accidents: the new view on error and performance. J Safety Res. 2002 Fall;33(3):371-85.

5. Ventura T, Santander J, Torres R, Contreras AM. Neurobiologic basis of craving for carbohydrates. Nutrition. 2014 Mar;30(3):252-6.

6. National Health and Medical Research Council. A modelling system Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2011b.