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Have you developed an irrational fear of eating carbohydrates? Do you quiver at the thought of a freshly-baked loaf, shy away from rice and gasp at the mention of pasta?
You're not alone: thousands of women across the UK have developed an aversion to these essential food types, due in part to the popularity of rapid weight loss programmes like the Atkins and South Beach diets, which advocate the total elimination of carbs in favour of foods rich in fats and proteins.
And, with celebrity endorsements for the Atkins diet from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and sinewy Victoria Beckham, it's not hard to see why so many of us have come to believe that carbs are the route of all weight gain.
But it's time to reconsider: eating fibre-rich carbs such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, and pulsescan help to lift your mood, burn fat and even protect against heart disease. Here are our top five reasons why you should ditch the Atkins attitude and get stuck in to a bowl of spaghetti:
1)      Boost your brain
Carbohydrates are fuel for the mind as well as the body, helping to power your brain and keep you on the ball. But that's not all: eating wholegrain carbs promotes the production of feel-good chemical serotonin, which helps to lift your mood.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that people who followed low carb programmes like the Atkins diet experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those who stuck to low-calorie, high-carb diets rich in grains, fruits, beans and low-fat dairy products.
2)      Lose weight
Contrary to popular belief, eating carbohydrates can actually help you lose weight and stay in shape by giving you the energy you need to burn calories, feel fuller for longer, and stifle sweet cravings.
"Wholegrain foods tend to be higher in fibre which bulks out the diet and are low in fat," says nutritionist Sara Stanner, of the Nutrition Society.  "Fibre can also aid appetite control.  So eating plenty of wholegrain foods can aid weight loss."
3)      Protect your heart
"People who eat more wholegrain foods have lower rates of heart disease," Sara continues.  "This may be due to the fibre content of such diets, which tends to be higher, or some other nutrient in wholegrain foods, such as vitamin E or selenium, which are both antioxidants. Alternatively, it could also be that they are eating less of other foods that are bad for the heart, like foods high in fat. "
4)      Burn more fat
If you want to turn your body into a fat-burning furnace, then eating a breakfast rich in slow-release carbs is essential.
Insulin (the hormone that tells our bodies when to store sugar as fat) levels are lower in the body when we consume slow-release carbs.  However, when we eat fast-release carbs (think white bread and sugary drinks) or deprive ourselves of carbs altogether, insulin levels soar, sending a message to the brain to store that energy as fat.
"People often believe that eating carbohydrates will make them fat, or that they can only lose weight by cutting carbohydrates," says Dr Lilian Cheung, a nutritional expert from the Havard School of Public Health. "The truth is, you can lose weight on any diet, as long you burn more calories than you consume."
5)      Optimise your work-out
Think exercising on an empty stomach will help you burn fat reserves faster? Think again - you're not even going to make it to the gym if you don't have the energy to get there in the first place.
"Carbohydrate is the most important form of fuel for exercise and sports activities," says Helen Riley, a nutritional scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation. "The body can store carbohydrate in the muscles and liver, but these stores are small so it is important to keep them topped up. If you get tired during physical activity this might be because your carbohydrate stores are low."


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