“Shredding” for Summer? Shift your Focus to Carb Quality not Carb Quantity

With summer approaching, no doubt many Australians are embarking on their yearly ritual to work off the extra weight, commonly known as “shredding” among young men, the group in focus for this month’s edition of GLNC’s Balance. With the abundance of carbophobic messages in the media, the solution for many this year may be to search out and indiscriminately eliminate all or most sources of dietary carbohydrate, including grains (and even legumes).

It’s true! For many young men, one of the first steps towards summer weight loss can be made with carbohydrate foods, but with a focus on making quality choices, not by going extreme and cutting all carbs.

A key pitfall of the ‘avoid carbs at all costs’ approach to weight management is that it doesn’t discriminate between nutrient rich good quality carbohydrate foods (like legumes, whole grain or high fibre grain foods, starchy vegetables, milk and yoghurt) and nutrient-poor discretionary choices such as sweetened beverages, cakes, biscuits, pasties and confectionery. The GLNC 2014 Consumption and Attitudinal Study showed that only one in ten young men are making smart carb choices as often as they should when it comes to grains. In fact, 40% of young men eat less than one serve of whole grain foods a day when they should be having at least three serves.

The study also found that many young men believe grain foods are not an important part of a healthy diet. What they don’t understand is that, by making such poor choices, they are putting themselves at risk of not getting the nutrients they need for health and wellbeing. There is a smarter way to shred.

Smart Shredding – Making good food decisions and limiting discretionary choices

The first question a smart shredder should ask is which foods in your diet are under-performing in terms of nutrition and wellbeing? It is said that we make 200 food decisions a day, and for Australians, particularly young men, recent data suggests that over a third of these food decisions end with discretionary foods choices such as meat pies, muffins, burgers or pizza(1). These foods really are the under performers nutritionally and for health.

The accessibility to processed or takeaway grain foods can make us susceptible to falling into the trap of choosing poorer quality discretionary grain foods over more nutritious core grain food options such as breads, cereals, crispbreads, rice, pasta, noodles or other grains. Not only are discretionary foods such as pastries, pizza, pies and biscuits higher in added saturated fats and salt, they also have very few of the nutrients we need for vitality in the short term and wellbeing in the long term. Research shows that the regular consumption of these ‘discretionary’ foods will increase your risk of obesity and chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer(2). The first step of a smart shred is to improve overall carbohydrate quality by limiting discretionary choices, those made in preference for core foods.

The second question to ask is which quality carbohydrate foods have a good track record when it comes to nutrition and weight management? In addition to the highest consumption of discretionary grain choices, GLNC’s 2014 Consumption and Attitudinal Study found that only 52% of men meet their whole grain daily target intake(3), and only 6.5% of young men reported eating legumes on the day before the last national nutrition survey(1). Given that intake of whole grains, high fibre and low GI grain foods and legumes is linked to better diet quality(4-6), healthier weight measures and reduced risk of being overweight(7, 8), it is clear that many young men may be missing out on the benefits of these good quality choices. Whilst it may not be a priority of young men today, the benefits of a healthy eating pattern that includes grain foods and legumes extends beyond “shredding” and has been shown to reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain in the long-term(2, 9). So whether your goal is shredding for summer, maintaining weight or increasing muscle mass – make choosing grain foods, mostly whole grain or high fibre, and enjoying legumes more often a priority.

A word on portions… The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that young men eat at least six serves of core grains, mostly whole grain or high fibre varieties each day as part of a balanced diet.(2) The Guidelines are based on the average male doing light physical activity and adopting this recommendation along with serve recommendations for each of the other core food groups (meat and protein foods; vegetables; fruit and dairy). If young men were to achieve these core food recommendations and resist discretionary foods, they would consume on average 2,700 fewer kilojoules per day, which when combined with exercise, could result in satisfactory weight loss.

But what does one serve look like?

  • 1 slice of whole grain, wholemeal or high fibre bread
  •  ½ a medium wholemeal roll or flatbread (40g)
  • 1 wholemeal English muffin or crumpet
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice, whole grain couscous, wholemeal pasta or noodles
  • ½ cup cooked oats, wheat, barley, rye, bulgur, buckwheat or quinoa
  • 2/3 cup (30g) whole grain or high fibre breakfast cereal
  • 2 whole grain biscuit breakfast cereals
  • ½ cup porridge or ¼ cup muesli
  • 3 whole grain or high fibre crispbreads.

The bottom line: Fuel your shred with good quality carbohydrates

In support of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, GLNC encourages all Australians to limit discretionary choices, enjoy grain foods 3-4 times each day, choosing at least half as whole grain or high fibre, and aim to eat legumes at least 2-3 times each week. As it appears most young men are not meeting these guidelines, adopting these healthy habits should be a cornerstone of any plan to achieve and maintain a healthy weight – even a smart “summer shred”.

To make good quality carbohydrate grain and legumes foods the first thing you reach for, stock your pantry with whole grain or high fibre grain foods including bread, breakfast cereal, oats, brown rice, whole grain crispbreads and tinned legumes. When you feel like a snack, rather than choosing an under-performing discretionary choice, reach for whole meal toast or whole grain crispbreads topped with some protein, like cheese or boiled egg.  Finally, skip the bar food and man the kitchen, with GLNC’s simple nutrient-packed recipes that will be sure to keep you on track as the countdown to summer begins.

Head toward a healthy new year

Does the cut all carbs approach sound familiar? This ‘solution’ is not new, for many it was probably the solution (or resolution) last year too and maybe even the year before. While low or no carb crash diets may achieve short term results (if you stick to them), they are also often the basis of the ‘yo-yo diet cycle’ that many people get stuck in for years without achieving AND maintaining their weight related goals.

This year aim to take a longer term view and make your (or help to make your friends, family or clients) goal a “smart and sustained shred” to achieve AND maintain a healthy weight without comprising adequate fibre, nutrient intakes and wellbeing. This approach is consistent with evidenced based recommendations that encourage a focus on carbohydrate food “quality” rather than “quantity” for a healthy weight and reduced risk of weight gain in the long-term (10-12).


  1. ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.
  2. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
  3. GLNC. 2014 New Zealand Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished 2015.
  4. Mann KD, Pearce MS, McKevith B, Thielecke F, Seal CJ. Whole grain intake and its association with intakes of other foods, nutrients and markers of health in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey rolling programme 2008–11. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;113(10):1595-602.
  5. O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Zanovec M, Cho S. Whole-grain consumption is associated with diet quality and nutrient intake in adults: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2004. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110(10):1461-8.
  6. Flood VR, J. Legume consumption and relationship to health outcomes. In: Wollongong Uo, editor. Unpublished.
  7. Williams PG, Grafenauer SJ, O’Shea JE. Cereal grains, legumes, and weight management: a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Nutrition reviews. 2008;66(4):171-82.
  8. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011;364(25):2392-404.
  9. Griffiths T. Towards an Australian ‘daily target intake’ for wholegrains. Food Australia. 2007.
  10. Fogelholm M, Anderssen S, Gunnarsdottir I, Lahti-Koski M. Dietary macronutrients and food consumption as determinants of long-term weight change in adult populations: a systematic literature review. Food & nutrition research. 2012;56.
  11. Naude CE, Schoonees A, Senekal M, Young T, Garner P, Volmink J. Low Carbohydrate versus Isoenergetic Balanced Diets for Reducing Weight and Cardiovascular Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PloS one. 2014;9(7):e100652.
  12. Santiago S, Zazpe I, Bes-Rastrollo M, Sanchez-Tainta A, Sayon-Orea C, de la Fuente-Arrillaga C, et al. Carbohydrate quality, weight change and incident obesity in a Mediterranean cohort: the SUN Project. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2015;69(3):297-302.

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