Fear of Carbohydrates
The fear of carbohydrates or “carbs” is a relatively common dietary concern. It typically stems from the belief that consuming carbohydrates will lead to weight gain or other negative health outcomes. This fear is often fuelled by popular diet trends that support low-carb diets, such as the Atkins or ketogenic diets, which often promise unsustainable solutions for complex issues. It is important to understand that carbs are an essential nutrient that the body needs to function properly, and aren’t solely to blame for weight gain or other health conditions like diabetes. In fact the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that 45-65% of your daily energy requirement come from carbs.
Why do we need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are needed in our diet to provide energy to go about our day and to fuel our cells and brain! When we don’t eat enough carbs throughout the day it can make us feel sluggish and tired and puts us at risk of developing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Low blood sugar when you are living with diabetes can be dangerous especially if you are taking insulin or glucose lowering medications, so it is important you eat enough carbohydrates per day to maintain energy levels and prevent low blood sugar.
What are some common ‘myths’ around carbohydrates?
“Carbohydrates are responsible for diabetes” – Carbohydrate consumption alone does not cause diabetes; however, diabetes can be influenced by various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and overall diet quality.
“Carbohydrates are bad for you” – This is a common misconception that has led to many fad diets that advocate for low-carbohydrate or no-carbohydrate diets. However, carbs are an important source of energy for the body, and they play a key role in maintaining good health.
“Fruit is bad for people living with diabetes” – Fruit does not need to be avoided, in fact, a diet high in fruit can help protect you from chronic diseases like heart disease, heart attack, some cancers and stroke. Most fruits are considered low GI (glycemic index) except watermelon, rockmelon and canned fruit. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and Diabetes Australia recommend aiming for at least 2 servings of fruit per day. Top tip: if you like canned fruit, have one that comes in natural juice and drained off before enjoying.
“Carbohydrates cause depression in people living with diabetes” – While it is true that people living with diabetes are at a higher risk of depression, there is no evidence to suggest that carbohydrates cause depression in people living with diabetes.
“All carbohydrates are the same” – Carbohydrates come in different forms, including simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (e.g., sugar and refined grains), are quickly digested and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), take longer to digest and provide a steady source of energy.
”Carbohydrates cause weight gain” – While consuming excessive amounts of any type of food can lead to weight gain, there is no evidence to suggest that carbs are uniquely responsible for weight gain. In fact, many carbohydrate-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are low in calories and can be part of a healthy diet.
OVERALL TIP: Remember it’s important that you don’t cut out or avoid whole food groups like carbs, but rather find the right balance and type of carbs for you to enjoy a balanced diet.
Kim Gestro – Health Psychology Student
Jacinta Thomas – Dietetics Student
Reviewed by: Emma Reid – Health Psychologist