Carbs are not evil! You just need to know how to make better carb choices. Many carbohydrate-dense fat-free foods are considered healthy because they are fat-free. However, we now know that eating mostly carbohydrates foods are not healthy and eating fat is an important part of eating well.
3 Types of Carbs
When we talk carbs, we include 3 categories:
- Starches: A starch is a chain of glucose molecules. Examples of starches include starchy vegetables (peas, carrots, corn, lima beans, and potatoes), beans, lentils and grains (oats, barley, and wild unprocessed rice)
- Sugars: simple molecules such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, and galactose (fruit and dairy)
- Fiber: Fiber is a substance that makes up the cell walls and structure of a plant. Soluble fiber is important because it is digested by gut bacteria to help generate energy. Insoluble fiber is not digested and helps bulk and soften stool for consistent bowel movements.
The standard American diet is typically loaded with excess carbohydrates, added sugar, fats, and salt. Ideally, the excess should be cut out. Better carb choices help to minimize excess salt and added sugar.
Carb Containing Foods
Natural fats and proteins do not contain carbs. Every other food group contains carbohydrates. When you consume any foods from the fruit, dairy/milk, grain, and vegetable groups, you are eating sugar and carbohydrates. ALL CARBS COUNT. Most sources (cereal, bagels/bread, rice, yogurt, pasta) of carbohydrates are processed. They also add excess calories and stimulate appetite without providing many nutritional benefits.
Carb Containing Food Groups
Fruit: Different fruits add various amounts of sugar (fructose) to your diet based on portion size. A rule of thumb is a small fruit of 1/2-3/4 c. While fruits do not have labels, high sugar fruits include banana, grapes, raisins, dates, figs, mango, and other tropical fruits. Very large GMO fruits also contain more sugar than their natural smaller versions.
Milk/Dairy: Like the fruit group, the amount of sugar/carb is based on the type and portion of dairy and the brand. Dairy foods provide lactose sugar. You can see from this label, 7 grams of sugar contributes to the 10 carbohydrates on the label. Reading labels are important. Lower carb dairy sources are cheese, cream, Greek yogurt.
Grains/starches: Grains are starches. One serving is 1/2 cup. Popular grain options: bagels, bread, cereal, rice are mostly refined and processed which are not healthy. Quinoa, barley, oatmeal, 100% whole grain, starchy vegetables, legumes, and beans are examples of healthier options.
Vegetables: Of all the carb food groups, non-starchy vegetables have the least amount of carbohydrates and sugar. Specifically, green leafy lettuce, celery, cucumber, and mushroom have the least within this group.
3 Simple Reasons to Eat More Healthy Carbs
1. Phytonutrients in Fruits & Vegetables
Phytonutrients are nutrients provided by a plant through its color or pigment. Fruits and vegetables provide over 100,000 phytonutrients. These nutrients do not have calories. However, they have been found to protect against diseases, slow the aging process, support brain health and lower inflammation.
Some phytonutrients are fat-soluble and need fat for nutrient absorption, and others are water-soluble.
Healthy carbs with phytonutrients are colorful:
- Red foods such as tomatoes, red onion, watermelon, and pink grapefruit provide these phytonutrients: lycopene, ellagic acid, quercetin, and anthocyanidins. Eat these to promote heart and urinary tract health.
- Orange/Yellow foods contain carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene), lutein/zeaxanthin, and hesperidin. Eat carrots, winter squash, yellow & orange bell peppers, pumpkin, and cantaloupe. They help maintain eyesight and healthy skin, protect against cancer and heart disease.
- White/Tan foods boost the immune system and support heart health. EGCG, allicin, quercetin, indoles, glucosinolates are provided in onions, cauliflower, tea, turnips, and garlic.
- Green color provides lutein/zeaxanthin, isoflavones, EGCG, indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane from greens like spinach, kale, collards Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy. They all work to detox the body and slow cell damage, lower oxidative stress, and inflammation. Eating these green carbs can help ward off cancer too.
- Purple and blue foods (eggplant, plum) help neutralize free radicals to slow down aging. They contain anthocyanidins, resveratrol, phenolics, and flavonoids.
By swapping commercially prepared processed unhealthy carbs like bread, pretzels or cereal for plant foods you fuel your body with health-protecting phytonutrients.
2. Slash Calories With Healthy Carbs
Get “nutritional bang for your calorie buck.” Replacing unhealthy carbs in your diet with colorful non-starchy veggies is calorically economical and can help in weight management.
All you have to do is swap the processed starch for the phytonutrient filled healthy carbs. Per serving, there is a 75% reduction in calories and a reduction in carbs by two thirds.
For example, a serving of bread or starch contains 80-150 calories and at a minimum 12-15 grams of carbohydrate. If you read the label, any given product may contain more. In comparison, a serving of non-starchy vegetables is < 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates.
If weight loss is the goal, it seems like a no brainer to me.
3. Taste Healthy Carbs
In spite of the fact that real foods taste better, more people eat more processed foods. As a result, they fill up on loads of sugar, salt, and fat. Therefore, you may need to retrain your tastebuds before you can appreciate the taste of real food.
At first, Start by simply squirting a little lemon or lime (fruits) in a drink or on a meal. It enhances the flavor while boosting healthy nutrients. Later, try a bigger step by using sauteed spinach in place of pasta or rice for your meals.
Tantalize your tongue with savory and tasty herbs and spices. While using replacement recipes, like the options listed below, or finding similar ready-made frozen products; you go from boring to adopting newfound tastes.
Also keep in mind, soft or crisp vegetables can pick up the taste of any seasoning.
I challenge you to taste the difference. And, understand hat is important is that you are happy and satisfied with your meals!
Kick Carbs To The Curb Wrap Up
There is no need to completely kick carbs to the curb. Simply, eat healthy carbs in small portions.
Swap processed carbs for natural plant-based options. Eventually, this helps eliminate excess calories, sugar, and salt from your diet. Fruits and vegetables provide healthy carbohydrates, taste, and nutrients that slow the aging process and help prevent disease.