Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Defence of Carbs

My name is Kit and I love carbs. There I’ve said it... I’m not doing the paleo thing, I send my kids to school with sandwiches made of bread and cheese, and I love baking. And it may be crazy to feel you have to defend a love for what has always been a staple part of our diet, but there are so many articles out there now demonising the simple slice of bread that it is time for me to speak out!

Let me just say that I eat meat, vegetables and dairy too. I stuck with butter throughout the many years that Flora reigned supreme. I use cream in my cooking and sometimes buy whole fat milk as well as low fat, so I don’t only love carbs, my devotion is shared between all the major food groups.

The ‘paleo’ diet sounds great for those who can afford to buy good quality meat and dairy products in decent quantities; and for those who really do have medical reasons to go low carb, such as diabetes. I’ve heard from several friends, whose opinions I respect, that going paleo has really made a difference to them. But why does a food trend have to swing so violently one way or the other. Suddenly all the information I’m bombarded with says carbs are bad, carbs are poison. Can’t we have some sensible middle ground here?

For most of us (and I mean those without medical problems, intolerances and allergies) a balanced diet is one that includes all the food groups. Carbohydrates give us energy, they are filling and satisfying, they are feel good foods. Yes it’s better to go for complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, wholewheat flour, oats and so on, but even white bread is fine in moderation. Moderation being the operative word here; a diet disproportionately heavy on carbohydrate isn’t going to be good for anyone.

 Moderation, middle ground, middle of the road sounds so dull... it’s not as interesting, dramatic or colourful as being at one of the extremes, but I really believe that when it comes to food it makes sense. Too much or too little of anything can be bad for you. All those claims for thirty years that low fat diets were the answer for a healthy heart now seem to be being refuted. I’m vindicated in my championing of butter. Who knows what research will find out about carbs in thirty years? That they actually are essential after all?

I want my children to enjoy food, to eat sensibly and not get stuck on the latest food fad. I’d like them to be able to travel the world when they’re older and eat with their local hosts without having to cross reference the menu against a long list of foods that they don’t eat.  I’d love it if they ate more vegetables. I’d love to be able to afford ethically raised meat to feed them several times every week. But as long as they are eating a fairly broad spectrum of home-cooked foods, I think that they are getting adequate nutrition.

If we are going to have any food issues in the house, I’d rather banish processed foods and focus on home-cooked. But even that I can’t take to extremes; I still feed our son on baked beans, which he loves, and eat bought peanut butter with marmalade myself as a lunchtime snack.

I have an unsubstantiated suspicion that it is modern methods of preserving and farming foods that is at the bottom of the mainstream reaction against certain foods; that it is the preservatives and traces of agricultural chemicals in flour that may be a factor in many cases of gluten intolerance; that it is hormones and chemicals in intensely farmed meat that may result in meat or animal fat causing health problems.

So my idea of a culinary utopia would be us all sitting down together and dining off a laden table of organic fruits and vegetables, cheeses and cream, organic pasture-reared meat and breads made from organic stoneground flour, without counting a single calorie, and living healthily ever after... with a generous serving of organic fair trade chocolate to finish off with.

But until that day dawns I will just do the best I can with the freshest and most ethical foods I can source and afford on a variable budget. I will bake bread, crunchies, cakes and pastries without feeling guilty about it, and I will happily cook for paleo friends, vegetarian friends, vegan friends and gluten intolerant friends (although perhaps secretly hoping that they are not all present at the same meal!)

How about you... are you finding that paleo is right for you? Or are you an unrepentant carboholic like me!


  1. Amen! Preach it, sister! I must admit to some eye-rolling about paleo, gluten-free, etc. It's a pendulum swing. I'd rather simply enjoy good food and a balanced diet and strive for moderation (my besetting sin is a mild form of gluttony ;) than jump on every food bandwagon, and end up destroying my digestion in the process. I tried cutting out carbs once and not only was I (and my entire family) miserable, but as soon as I starting eating them again I gained back all I'd lost and more, without eating more than normal.

    1. It's the pendulum thing that gets me. And having to think of alternatives to practically every family meal and school lunch box.

  2. Well, here's the thing... if you're relatively fit and trim eating whatever you want to eat, then that's great. But some of us, once we passed 40, have found that our increased stress levels, combined with jobs that literally tie us to our desks for 8 hours a day (radio headphones for me), combined with what we eat, has resulted in a lot of "junk in the trunk" and "front mounted rucksacks".

    I'm not saying Paleo is for everyone. But when my husband and I did it seriously for a year, we both lost a lot of weight and felt fabulous.

    Of course, being human, we've since fallen off the wagon and have put weight back on again. But there's no arguing that Paleo works for heavy people who want to be a healthy weight, sleep better, and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. If you're able to eat Paleo and also work out, walk, or jog - the results are even better.

    It's not that everyone "has to" eat the same way. Everyone's body is different. If you can eat carbs and maintain a healthy weight, then why should you do anything different? I certainly wouldn't! And, as you said, you're feeding your family a healthy mix of all the food groups, with lots of veggies and home-cooked rather than processed stuff. Which is much better than most kids in America, who eat McDonalds and pizza and frozen junk thawed in a microwave (hell, that's what most adults in America are eating!) 8-).

    1. Marcheline, you were one of the people I was thinking of whose experience of paleo I respect. I know it really worked for you - sorry to hear about the bandwagon falling off! I guess I am very lucky that I can maintain a fairly stable weight while eating my bread and baked goodies - it's the luck of the metabolic genes - plus that we don't really do much in the way of processed food or fast food.
      The rant came on after reading just one too many article last week that swore that paleo/no carb is the only way to go for healthy living.

    2. Kit - I totally wasn't disagreeing with your view - I support your decisions for yourself and your family. As a matter of fact, I sort of disdain and roll my eyes over the whole "granola industry" of people raving about grass-fed this and sustainable that and organic blah blah blah.... even though it's obviously "better".... there's no need to get orgasmic over the whole issue. I just do the best I can with what's available in my regular grocery store. I don't have the budget or the inclination to go all Gwyneth Paltrow.

      Actually, if I could be reincarnated I'd come back as one of your kids - I think they're some of the luckiest ever!


  3. Over forty years ago , I was persuaded to start eating complicated carbs by my endocrinologist and so far it's helped me avoid a lot of the highs and lows of insulin use .
    As our children grew up , I fed them the same , more or less , and was downright mean with treats like fizzy drinks . I used to tell them they'd be glad later .


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!