Why carbs after 5pm can be good for you

It might be full of carbs, but pasta is not the enemy.
It might be full of carbs, but pasta is not the enemy. 

Carbs are the enemy. At least, that's what we've been made to think. 

From low-carb to no-carb, a common denominator in weight-loss success stories is scaling back quantities of starchy and sugary foods from our everyday diet. "No carbs after 5pm" has become a mantra of-sorts, as health and fitness fanatics pore over plates of chicken and broccoli. 

Despite all the weight-loss stories, Alan Barclay, accredited practising dietitian and spokesman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says there is no scientific evidence to suggest that breaking up with bread (instead of breaking bread) in the evening is beneficial. 

Carbs like quinoa and beans will keep you fuller for longer
Carbs like quinoa and beans will keep you fuller for longer Photo: Shutterstock

"Our bodies are quite capable of coping with all macronutrients," says Alan. "So having carbohydrates for breakfast, lunch and dinner is fine."

Minimising carbohydrate intake is not weight-loss magic. And there's nothing "fat-burning" about the timing. 

"What the people are doing is simply cutting out calories," says Alan. "Typically, for dinner, the types of carbs we have are rice, pasta, potatos or bread. They are at least half of a meal which is a substantial amount of food. You're cutting calories by removing them which, yes, will help you lose weight."

Get your carb fix: Baked potatoes are a good alternative to fries.
Get your carb fix: Baked potatoes are a good alternative to fries. Photo: William Meppem

For example, cut out a 100 gram serving of pasta and you reduce your intake by 1464 kilojoules (350 calories).  Say "no" to large baked potato and you're down 673 kilojoules (161 calories). Avoid a cup of boiled white rice and that's 836 kilojoules (200 calories) gone. It's simple maths. That's why you lose weight.

That is not to say that carbohydrates should be cut from your diet completely. Carbs are necessary fuel. It's just about separating the "good" from the "bad". 

"It's generally the refined overly processed and sugary carbs, which are stripped of vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre by processing, that are not good choices," explains Alan. A chocolate brownie might taste better than a bowl or quinoa but it's double the calories with a fraction of the health benefits. 

Advertisement

Good carbohydrates, according to Alan, are unprocessed and still full "of the goodness nature intended". Things like wholegrain breads and cereals, brown rice, legumes, wholemeal pasta, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products like milk and yoghurt.

"These foods are all highly nutritious and provide necessary vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre," says Alan. They also help you stay fuller for longer.

But, here's the clincher: carbs can actually help you lose weight.  

Carbs like fresh fruit and natural yogurt will satisfy your sweet tooth.
Carbs like fresh fruit and natural yogurt will satisfy your sweet tooth.  

Findings of a 2016 Israeli study, published in the Journal of Obesity, busted myths surrounding eating carbs post 5pm. The study comprised of two groups: people who ate carbs throughout the day (a control group) and people who ate 80 per cent of their carbs at night (an experimental group). Both groups consumed the same total calories and macronutrient quantities. But, those who ate the majority of their carbs at night lost significantly more weight and body fat across a six-month period. 

So it seems having carbs for dinner is not a bad idea, after all. 

In fact, according to Alan, eating late in general is OK: "It's not a good idea to eat and go straight to bed, because it's a great way to give you indigestion – it's simple mechanics," he says.  "But, other than that, you're not completely inactive when you sleep – you go through different phases and your metabolic rate can go up quite a bit. You are actually still using energy."

When it comes to having carbs after the sun goes to sleep, Alan is an advocate. Not only are they satisfying to both your tastebuds and your stomach, but they have another surprising advantage:  "The amino acid tryptophan increases when we consume carbohydrates which increases serotonin levels which, in turn, helps us go to sleep at night," he says. 

This is where the oldest trick in the book originated: having trouble sleeping? Have a warm glass of milk before bed. Skip the cookies though – they won't do you any favours.