Carbohydrates are only found in plant-based foods. You won’t find any carbs in meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or eggs. Foods with carbs include vegetables (including starchy vegetables), fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds. These also happen to be the same foods that are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and natural sugars, all of which our bodies need to maintain optimal weight and health. Yes, our bodies even need sugar, to fuel our cells, and especially our brains! If you are on a diet that cuts out carbs, technically that means that you have to cut out all of these foods. How realistic is that? How sustainable is that? How healthy is that?
If you’re cutting carbs out of your diet, the carbs (or sugars) that you really need to think about cutting out of your diet are the processed and refined carbs in which all the fiber and nutrients have been removed (the reason so many of these foods are “enriched” is to try to put back some of the nutrition that was removed). Especially the processed and refined carbs prepared with unhealthy saturated fats and cholesterol. Which foods are those? I’m talking about the ones made with white flour (enriched or bleached) and/or sugar – foods that probably also have fat (butter, oil, cream, lard, etc.) and eggs (high in cholesterol) such as baked goods (cakes, cookies, pies, muffins, etc.), crackers, sugary cereals, white bread, white pasta, and candy. For that matter, ice cream (dairy) has added carbs because it’s loaded with sugar (plus plenty of saturated fat). White rice is no better since it’s a refined grain. These are the carbs that make you fat and unhealthy (see my post about carbohydrates from December 16, 2012 to learn why).
On the other hand, whole, unprocessed, unrefined complex carbohydrates keep you healthy and help you maintain a healthy weight. The fiber in these carbohydrates slow the rate of sugar absorption, giving your body the opportunity to use the sugar as fuel rather than converting it into fat. Additionally, the slower rate of sugar absorption controls your insulin response, lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes. Plus you get all the nutrients in their most potent form as packaged by nature.
So you love pasta? Try whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, or whole grain pasta with your favorite low-fat marinara sauce (try adding vegetables to the sauce). Does it taste the same as the white, pasty pasta you love? No, it tastes even better, although you might not appreciate that just yet. Be patient and give it time, and your tastes will adjust to the nutty flavors and textures of whole grain pasta. So will your weight and your health. The same is true for whole-grain breads, crackers, and cereals as well as brown rice.
Want something sweet? Try spreading some peanut butter (the kind with “peanuts” as the only ingredient) or raw almond butter over a slice of whole grain bread and top it with sliced banana and maybe even a little pure maple syrup. It’s sweet, satisfying, gives you energy, and you have no reason to feel guilty!
This post is for you, T – Happy Birthday!