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Diet blog: the carb comeback

Judith Wills / 12 February 2018

Diet expert, Judith Wills, on why carbohydrates are back on the dieter's menu.

Brown bread
Welcome carbs back into your life – and try to make them as unadulterated as possible, says our diet expert

You did know that carbs are back in fashion, didn’t you? Come along, do keep up.  They’ve been creeping back into vogue over the past few months, and although in general I abhor diet trends and fads, as you will know if you read my new year’s blog, this is one trend about which I’m quite happy.

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Dear old boring carbs, including bread and grains, are stealing a bit of the limelight because, just as back in 80s, a high protein diet is looking a bit dodgy and getting its share of bad publicity and this could be at least partly, but by no means all, to do with the rise and rise of meat-free eating in the UK. 

The truth, which in my view rarely changes more than a tad, is that enough protein in your diet is absolutely necessary, but more than enough is not.  And as we age, unless we happen to be one of those dozen or so who are running marathons every week, we need a little less muscle-maintaining protein than we did as adults in youth and midlife.

Are you getting enough protein?

But we’ve got to eat something, so as high protein diets fade, carbs make a fairly quiet, but definite, comeback. In recent months they’ve been linked with helping to prevent everything from heart disease, depression and dementia to diabetes, cancer and obesity. 

Many of these benefits are associated with the way that carbs can improve our levels of healthy gut bacteria – proteins and fats just can’t do that. Gut bacteria seem to be very closely linked with our wellbeing as well as disease prevention, and have become the most-researched area of food and health in recent years.  

So what is it in our carbs that turn out to have so many benefits?  Well, not all carbs are equal or the same, but the ‘best’ carbs contain a variety of nutrients and non-nutrients that our bodies need for health and long life.

Pulses such as chick peas and lentils, which are nearly two-thirds carbs, are loved by our gut bacteria.

For instance, pulses such as chick peas and lentils, which are nearly two-thirds carbs, are loved by our gut bacteria, and are rich in fibres which can also lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol, Wholegrains contain many different antioxidant compounds linked with longevity and their different fibres are brilliant at helping to prevent inflammation, arthritis, diabetes and obesity. 

How much fibre do you really need?

One of the main ways carbs help to keep – or get – us slim are in offering satiety.  If you choose a variety of wholegrains, pulses and roots (and keep the skin on roots when you can) this helps stop you feeling hungry and literally ‘feeds’ your body for longer.  Slightly under-ripe bananas, and cold new potatoes are rich in a ‘resistant starch’ that again keeps your blood sugar levels steady for longer.  And new research seems to indicate that a low-fibre diet actually encourages the body to lay down fat.

The most filling low-calorie foods

So do welcome carbs back into your life – and try to make them as unadulterated as possible, i.e. with at least most of their original fibre content.  Swap packet French fries for home-made thick-cut skin-on chips brushed with extra virgin rapeseed oil and baked.  Swap white rice for brown, or even better, a mix of brown and a couple of other wholegrains.  Get as many pulses into your daily diet as you can.  See the easy recipe below for a truly delicious alternative to mashed potato.

There are so many ideas.  So hallo carbs – it’s been a while, but it’s lovely to see you back on the menu!

Cannellini bean purée

This goes incredibly well with any roast meat or meat substitute but is particularly good with a (small) grilled lamb chop or Quorn sausages. You can also use it as a vegan pate, and if you like you can add some herbs to the mix – fresh basil or soft tips of rosemary, finely chopped, are good.

 It’s quick and easy to make especially if you choose canned beans – though it is also easy, and a bit cheaper, to buy dried beans and cook your own if you have time.

To make two portions:

  • 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
  • 1½ tb olive oil
  • Juice of half a small lemon
  • ¼ tsp sea salt or to taste
  • Black pepper

Just put everything into a blender, if you have one, and blend to a thick purée.  Check seasoning and if the mix is too thick for you, add a little more oil or a dash of water.  Put into a covered ovenproof or microwaveable dish and heat through to serve if using as mash, or serve cold as a paté or sandwich filling.  If you make extra, it freezes very well in a thick plastic bag.  


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.