Pasta, Bread, Potatoes, Rice and Breakfast Cereals
By Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Many slimmers think carbohydrate rich foods like pasta, bread, potatoes, cereal and rice are the bad guys when it comes to losing weight – and the popularity of low-carb diets several years ago has done little to dispel the myth.
Added to this, it’s not uncommon to read that wheat, found in foods like bread and pasta, can cause bloating leaving many of us believing that cutting them out of our diet will help us lose weight.
This has left many people feeling confused about whether or not they should include high carbohydrate foods in their weight loss diet.
What’s the Truth about Carbohydrates?
Most health experts agree there’s no proof that high carb foods are more likely to make us gain weight than any other food. Ultimately, it’s an excess of calories that makes us pile on the pounds – and it really doesn’t matter where those extra calories come from.
In fact, it’s usually the fat we add to carbs that boosts the calorie content, such as butter on a jacket potato or bread, creamy sauces with pasta and frying rice.
Diets that cut carbs work their magic just like any other diet – and that’s by reducing calories.
If a diet restricts certain foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta, cereal and rice, it also restricts calories and it’s this that causes weight loss.
Most carbohydrate rich foods, particularly unprocessed ones such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain cereals, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and jacket potatoes, are low in fat, contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals and make an important contribution to our fibre intakes.
Avoiding carbs like these makes it increasingly difficult to meet the recommended 18g of fibre a day, which we need for a healthy digestive system and to help lower our risk of conditions such as constipation, haemorrhoids (piles), diverticular disease and perhaps even bowel cancer.
And of course, high-fibre foods help to fill us up, which is why they’re such a great choice when it comes to losing weight.
There’s also good evidence that wholegrain – typically found in high carb foods like wholegrain cereal, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and oats – have a number of health benefits, including keeping our heart and digestive system healthy and helping us control our weight and blood sugar levels.
A diet that skips these foods makes it difficult for us to eat the three daily servings of wholegrains recommended by most health experts.
Which Carbs Should I Eat?
Go for high-fibre carbs such as brown rice, wholegrain cereal, wholemeal bread, potato cooked with the skin on and wholewheat pasta. They contain more nutrients and fibre than the processed, ‘white’ varieties and so will help to fill you up.
Don’t add too much extra fat to them though, for example, serve pasta with a tomato-based sauce rather than a creamy one and top a jacket potato with cottage cheese rather than Cheddar. And limit your intake of carbs that are combined with a lot of fat such as crisps, chips and fried bread.
How Much Should I Eat for Weight Loss?
The Eatwell Plate from the Food Standards Agency suggests that carbohydrates should make up about a third of the food we eat. Also, when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s important to count the calories provided by bread, potatoes, rice, cereals and pasta.
Swap to higher-fibre varieties of rice, bread, pasta and cereal gradually if you are not already eating them. Some people find that excessive wind, bloating and even constipation can occur if they suddenly start to eat a lot more fibre, so to prevent this it’s important to introduce fibre-rich foods slowly. This gives your body a chance to get used to them and adapt accordingly.
Fibre acts like a sponge in the gut and absorbs water to increase the bulk and softness of the stools, helping to ensure they’re eliminated easily from the body. So, as you increase your intake of fibre, it’s also important to increase your fluid intake. If you don’t drink enough, then constipation may result.
Start by making one change at a time, for example, swapping white bread for wholemeal bread, or white pasta for wholewheat, or white rice for whole grain. Once your body has got used to this change in your diet, you can introduce another one.
You can monitor the carb, and calorie, content of your diet with the Weight Loss Resources food Diary, Try it Free.
You can track all the food in your diet using the WLR food diary and weight loss tools. Try them free.