As the weather turns colder in Australia, we’re all starting to feel that extra tug towards more carb-heavy food options as opposed to the light summer salads we’ve been eating for the past few months. While this is no surprise, a lot of people become concerned that their wintertime carb intake will be too high, and that it could stand to derail their health goals.
We caught up with naturopath and nutritionist, Jess Blair, to pick her brains about carbs and comfort cravings.
The stigma around carbs
Carbs get a bad rap especially for those wanting to lose weight, and some diets recommend cutting out carbohydrates all together—lookin’ at you, keto.
According to Jess—the main thing about carbohydrates is that we know that having simple carbohydrates such as hot chips, biscuits and bakery food are not going to nourish us or help us reach our health goals because they’re essentially devoid of nutrients. However, carbohydrates such as seeds, whole grains, sweet potatoes and vegetables, and even fruits have a place in eating regime—thanks in part to their high nutritional value.
Her general rule of thumb is to listen to your body when it comes to carbohydrates—as some people prefer to have some carbs at breakfast time, or a little for dinner—whereas some people prefer to consume carbs immediately after training. Jess says that she has worked with clients who can’t sleep without carbohydrates; so in this instance, it’s important to add in some complex carbohydrates to their regime at dinnertime.
For anyone, carbohydrates are super important for brain function—but that doesn’t mean eating a loaf of bread per day; we can get a great number of carbohydrates from eating vegetables. As everyone is so different and have different levels of activity, how many carbohydrates needed differs from person to person.
Although it’s historically thought that women need more carbs than men, recent research has demonstrated the female body’s natural preference for fat as fuel. In a study that looked at the difference between fuel metabolism in men and women, it was found that women derived more energy from fat oxidation whereas men derived more of their energy from carbohydrate oxidation during both exercise and periods of rest. This suggests that some women, especially those with high activity levels, may require more fat than carbs to sustain their energy.
We asked Jess what the healthiest carbs are to reach for as the weather gets colder, and she said that seasonal eating is one of the philosophies she most encourages. She contends that it’s very normal to ‘crave’ comfort foods as the weather gets cooler because we actually need these foods in our diet as they have certain nutrients to help us build our immunity for the colder months ahead. She recommends adding in more root vegetables as a source of carbohydrates during autumn and winter—think beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots and sweet potato to name but a few, served alongside slow-cooked meats in stews or soups, as these nourishing foods are going to help your immune system cope with the stress of colder weather.
As spring comes along, lighter and fresher foods are going to be what you reach for—and you’re more likely to derive your carbohydrates from fruits and whole grains like quinoa that can be served cold in light, summery salads.