Carbohydrates: Good or Evil?

On Catalyst the other day was an episode about low carb diets. Naturally I watched it with great interest. I was sad to see that there were so few actual nutrition experts. Associate Professor Tim Crowe and Melanie Grice, APD, had some good, balanced comments. A lot of the other comments were riddled with errors (if you want you can read a list here, but putting those aside I still think the ‘debate’ is missing the point.

There is not one ‘perfect’ way to eat. Diets vary so much around the world. Some of the longest-living people, the Sardinians and Japanese, have completely different diets. Yes, it is possible to eat a healthy ‘low carbohydrate’ diet, but it is also possible on a ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are not evil – in fruit and wholegrain form they are amazingly good for us.

A healthy diet has a few important features:

  1. Lots of vegetables!
  2. Mostly whole foods
  3. Not too many processed carbohydrates and preserved meats
  4. Good fats
  5. Gets all your vitamins, minerals and proteins.
  6. Eating when hungry, not eating when full (except occasionally when the food is truly delicious)

Finding a ‘diet’ which fits these features, you enjoy, and is realistic and sustainable, is the key to health. If that mean low carb or high carb or somewhere in between, that’s totally ok. *

Remember, a ‘perfect’ diet is not realistic or necessary. Eating today involves a lot of cultural foods that may not be good for our bodies. Sure, we might all be healthier if we never ate these foods again, but it’s not sustainable, realistic, or fun.

Having a bit of chocolate, an ice-cream, chips or a piece of cake a couple of times a week is not going to ruin anyone’s health. Eating is more than getting nutrients and preventing chronic disease, it’s also about enjoying food, and enjoying life.

*If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian will help you determine if you need a specialised diet.


FAQ: what is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

This is a question I get a lot. I’m a dietitian AND a nutritionist, which I think is important.

Nutritionists know what food to eat to get all the nutrients we need to be healthy. It’s vitally important in my work that I know these things: knowing the basic facts behind what I’m recommending is the first step to helping someone find a healthy diet that works for them.

A dietitian is always a nutritionist, but a nutritionist is not always a dietitian. Dietitians have gone to uni to get a whole lot of extra knowledge: particularly important is nutrition counselling (helping people make the changes, not just giving instructions), and medical nutrition therapy (specialised diets for different medical conditions).

There’s also the Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) qualification. All dietitians in Australia who’ve studied an approved course can apply to the Dietitians Association of Australia, which gets them an APD qualification. Being a member of the DAA means you’re subject to professional codes of ethics, including continuous professional development. I’m pretty proud of my APD accreditation, as it says that I’m committed to ethical practice.

I hope this clears things up! xx