Carbs are not the enemy - here's why

Image of green and yellow bundles of uncooked fresh spaghetti

If you think a vegan diet means eating too many carbohydrates, read what our nutrition writer Georgia Bamber has to say.

The media, celebrities and invalidated, fad diets like Atkins, Zone and South Beach have perpetuated the myth that carbs are BAD. People have become so afraid of carbs that they avoid eating healthy foods like fruit and wholegrains.

Listen to all this hype and it would seem like carbs are nutritional public enemy number 1 and a dieter's greatest hurdle to weight loss.

But think about it. When was the last time you met someone struggling to control their weight because they ate too many apples or brown rice? Never.

No wonder people struggle with knowing what to eat. If you can't eat carbs, all you are left to eat is either FAT or PROTEIN. And although we need both of these nutrients in our diets, too much of either of them is not good for us. It can cause health problems like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Carbs are supposed to be our main source of energy. They are the fuel that run our bodies and should comprise as much as 80% of our diet.

It is a huge mistake to label all carbs as BAD. Of course eating donuts and potato chips all day is not good, but this shouldn't be equated with eating broccoli and sweet potatoes.


To show you why - here is a quick crash course on carbs.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the most important source of food energy in the world. They supply people with anywhere between 40% and 80% of their daily calorie needs.

Carbs are created by plants through the process of photosynthesis - a combination of carbon dioxide, water and chlorophyll that can be arranged in a collection of simple to complex molecules.

Fruits are often more than 90% carbohydrate while most other vegetables, grains and tubers range between 70-80%.

There are no carbs in animal foods, with the exception of lactose found in milk.

So if you choose not to eat carbs you will, by default, be avoiding incredibly healthy and wholesome plant foods like fruit, veg and wholegrains, while eating way too much unhealthy food like meat and dairy.

Is it possible to get energy from another source?

Carbs are definitely our body's preferred energy supply. They can be used efficiently and safely by the entire body for all our energy needs.

Protein and fat can be used for energy too, but not as effectively or safely as carbohydrates. Organ damage can occur when converting protein to glucose for energy. As protein is converted to glucose for energy, ammonia is created as a by-product, which causes stress on the kidneys that have to work hard to remove this waste from your blood. Energy from fat cannot be used by the brain or the nervous system.

But aren't carbs bad for you?

It is true, too much of some carbs is definitely bad for you. Refined and highly processed foods like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour and white rice should be avoided. These types of carbs are just empty calories. They are low in fibre, have few nutrients and are often packed with plenty of salt and fat. These types of carbs can lead to weight gain and health problems.

But not all carbs are created equal.

The complex carbohydrates found in whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, tubers, seeds, nuts and wholegrains are highly beneficial. Not only are they an essential part of any healthy diet, they should actually make up the great majority of it.

For too long plant foods have been dangerously demonised by lumping all carbs together in one group. A lot of people have significantly reduced or even eliminated these incredibly healthy foods from their diet. The long term health consequences of this are grave.

Why are 'good' carbs so important?

Whole food sources of carbs provide us with a fantastic source of energy but also come with a host of other benefits.

It has been shown over and over again that populations that eat carbohydrate-rich, plant heavy diets live longer and have lower rates of chronic disease than populations whose diets are heavy in animal foods, rich in protein and fat. Populations who eat plant rich (thus carb rich) diets are slimmer, fitter and live longer than those who don't. To learn more about this an excellent book is The Blue Zones by Dan Beuttner which studies the world's longest lived cultures.

Good carbs come packaged as nutritious whole plant foods that provide multiple benefits for our health. There are at least 100,000 protective substances found in whole plant foods like phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, retinols, sulfaraphanes and so many more. Whole plant foods contain essential fibre that is so important for optimal health and is completely devoid in animal foods.

All these awesome nutrients work together to protect us from diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. If you avoid eating carbs you are unable to benefit from any of these health-promoting nutrients. And unfortunately, there is no supplement in the world that can effectively replace the goodness you get from whole plant foods.

The bottom line is that if you avoid carbs and don't eat whole plant foods your health is likely to suffer.

If you would like to learn more about eating a plant-based, vegan diet check out Georgia's free Plant Powered Starter Guide.

About the author: Georgia Bamber is a plant-based lifestyle advocate and health coach, ultra marathon runner, ironman and mother. Through writing, speaking and online teaching she hopes to inspire people to harness the benefits of a healthy plant-centered lifestyle. A graduate of Cornell University and City University, London Business School, Georgia also holds a Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology and a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition. You can find her at and on twitter and instagram at @georgiabamber.

Image: Cinnamon Turmeric Sweet Potatoes, One Green Planet

Vegan Australia is an animal rights organisation that campaigns nationally for veganism. 
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