Low Carb vs. Healthy Carb

Low Carb vs. Healthy Carb

I’ve been a healthy-carbohydrate advocate for decades! In fact when I used to invite my friends over for dinner when I was working as a Registered Dietitian in Eugene, OR (circa.1998…) they would joke and ask if lawn clippings or tree bark was on the menu.

Of course my friends really did enjoy my cooking (or at least I hope so!) and didn’t really mean to poke fun. But a recent article in the August Healthy Food Guide, p.18 “Should you go Low Carb?” got me thinking (and a bit riled up I must say!) about this whole low-carb diet resurgence that has been back from the cold dead grave of Atkins. Remember him?

Whether the diet is paleo, low carb, ketogenic, or high-fat/low-carb, or whatever, I honestly wonder how on earth do people stick to these diets? (head scratch). Don’t get me wrong, I am not ‘totally’ against these fads because I do believe they are inspiring people to become more aware of their foods, they are cutting out junk food and processed food, and moving towards eating “real food”. This is what Registered Dietitians have been saying for years. For me that is where these diets should end. Job done. Thank you!

Mmmmm grass clipping burrito

BUT I am totally against the removal of not only a food group, but a macro-nutrient group. Macro-nutrients are the nutrient groups that contain kJ or energy. These are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Any diet that eliminates any one of the essential macro-nutrient groups sends me a big giant red flag, and I tend to see red. Why does it upset me so? Well, as a nutritionist, foodie and Powergirl it really breaks my heart to see people struggling with food so that it causes confusion, or worse, pushing vulnerable people into the dark and self-destructive world of eating disorders. I see it all the time! To share one example, I worked with an athletic 14 year old girl who’s mother engaged me to help because she was going down the track of the FAT (female athlete triad) with a very low body weight and body fat percentage. This poor girl was scared to eat anything with carbs after reading “I Quit Sugar”. She had no energy, felt terrible and was very confused. Thankfully she embraced the Powergirl way and decided to fuel her strong body and eat to kick ass! This girl is not the only person I’ve come across with massive confusion and disordered eating. The problem is common.

So what is the solution? Remember that no matter which diet you choose to follow, the chances are high that is a fad, especially if it cuts out whole food groups, such as in the case of paleo, or whole macro-nutrient groups, as in the case of keto. If you really want to follow such a diet then just do what the proponents of these diet do, cherry pick the good bits and ignore the rest. What do I mean?

  • If you find that you over-eat bread and carbs, then cut back and replace with veggies
  • Only eat high-fibre bread, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, potatoes with skin. The fibre will fill you up and by default you eat less kJ
  • Is packaged/processed food a problem? The buy a good cook book and learn to cook with real food
  • Aim for 40g dietary fibre/day. If you achieve that, then by default you will be getting in nutrient-rich food that has lower kJ content
  • Drinking your carbs? Stop! This includes fruit juice. Eat your carbs, don’t drink them
  • Gluten is your friend (unless you are a coeliac). Get in those whole grains!
  • Beans and legumes are awesome superfoods – packed with protein, fibre, iron, B-vitamins

What does this mean in food terms? Here is a snippet from one of Em’s grocery shopping lists:

  • Fresh greens and veggies – silverbeet, spinach, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms
  • Fresh fruit – bananas, satsumas, lemons, kiwi fruit, apples or pineapple
  • Coffee, honey
  • Wholegrain crackers – Vita Weet or Huntly & Palmer ancient grains
  • Peanuts and almonds
  • Extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
  • Hummus and pesto
  • Veggie burgers and brick of firm tofu
  • Multigrain bread, either Burgen or Vogel’s
  • Wholemeal pasta, Barilla and brown rice
  • Tins of chick peas, kidney, black beans and refried beans
  • Wholemeal tortillas
  • Pic’s Peanut Butter
  • Spices – turmeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, nutritional yeast, Himalayan pink salt and peppercorns

If you like to stay active and need an energy boost before exercise, or you need a meal on-the-go, then it is OK to use a product like Em’s Power Cookies. They have a nice balance of healthy carbs for sustained energy (oats, dried fruit, coconut) and added sugars for palatability and digestion (brown sugar, rice syrup). The rest of the time eat real food and try not to be too neurotic about it. Life is short, food is good. ENJOY 🙂 Em

Do you want wild blueberries with that? Gates of the Arctic National Park


  1. Avatar

    I’m with you Em! Exactly the same sort of message I’m trying to share over and over again, but it’s difficult getting many people on board with a sustainable nutrition concept. Because of course “fast results” are much more appealing in terms of instant gratification. I am so excited to read about your hemp bar. I’ve been away from NZ for 18 months or so but I am looking forward to coming back for a little while and fuelling myself with many of your bars (and hopefully the hemp ones!) while I’m home. Will have a newborn by then too so will need plenty of easy healthy snacks on hand xx

    • Avatar

      That’s awesome Elly! We just have to keep plugging away with the positivity of sustainable, healthy nutrition. I really hope the hemp laws are changed soon because many people want these. Congrats for your baby on the way! Hope to catch up when you’re back in NZ 🙂


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