In part one of our blog series "Understanding Carbohydrates," we defined "bad carbs" as highly-glycemic starches, in addition to other food categories that raise blood sugar levels. Who were the leading culprits? Potatoes, rice, pasta and most processed foods (which are predominant in our supermarkets and restaurants) are the enemy!
We provided a Glycemic Index which identified food items with a score of 56 or higher as bad carbs, and we established this index as the best source for distinguishing bad from good carbs, while tossing aside the highly-misguided Food Pyramid Guide (that our Federal Government has been publishing for years) into the garbage bin of history.
How do we make good carbs an integral part of our diet?
It would seem that our choices are limited to bran for starches, and nuts and beans for proteins. The good news is that we are not limited to these options, but we will get to more food choices later.
First, we need to remember the ultimate strategy. Our bodies break down carbs into sugars, so choosing higher fiber carbs is key! High fiber carbs take longer to break down, which means our bodies have more lasting energy.[i]
With this in mind, follow these three daily steps to introduce higher fiber "good carbs" into your diet.
- Eat at least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, or the equivalent of two cups of fruit or five cups of vegetables. This will likely add 10 more grams of fiber to your daily regimen.
- Include beans and bean products in your diet. More simply, eat a half cup of cooked beans, which will add 4 to 8 grams of fiber to your day.
- Switch to whole grains anywhere possible. Yes, this means buns, rolls, bread, tortillas, pasta and crackers. This third step is crucial in knocking out the low fiber carbs that predominate our American diet.[ii] For many of us who love pasta too much to quit, whole-wheat pasta provides up to three times more fiber than the refined white flour varieties.[iii]
Do your homework!
There is a universe of good carb alternatives that are delicious and provide essential nutrients, which can lead to improved health outcomes. Check out "25 Best Carbs That Will Uncover Your Abs."
- Some favorites include Kamut, a not-so-nutty grain that is an excellent source for heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. It also reduces cholesterol and blood sugar!
- Pink Lady Apples have the highest level of antioxidant flavonoids (a fat-burning compound) of any apple. Tip: If you can’t find Pink Ladies, know that all apples are among the best sources of fiber, regardless of variety!
- A smaller list from EatingWell includes popcorn – the ultimate snack alternative to chips and other junk foods. One tablespoon in the air popper has 3 grams of fiber and is equivalent to one of your three daily recommended servings of whole grain. That’s right, natural popcorn is a whole grain!
Try new things!
Although several of the good carbs that you find in your research may not be the most exciting to the taste buds, they certainly satisfy hunger cravings and lack the "addictive" element associated with bad "starchy" carbs that make you hungry an hour after you eat them.
Part of the fun of exploring new foods and recipes is that you will find new flavors that are pleasing to the palate, especially when you are combining other healthy ingredients.
- For example, when cooking with quinoa, barley, bulgar, wheat berries and other whole grains, you can use natural flavor enhancers like fresh juices, salt-free herbs, spices and seasonings, as well as onion and garlic.
- You can also pair these foods with vegetables and other healthy proteins, especially fish!
It is all about the TIMING...
For those trying to lose weight or build muscle, eating good carbs before and after a workout is essential for building sustainable energy and curbing appetite throughout the day.
For best results, divide your good carbs evenly among meals and snacks each day. Try to get the majority of your carbohydrates from foods that are packed with nutrients and are naturally low in carbs, like non-starchy vegetables. Some of the best examples are broccoli, leafy greens, eggplant and artichokes.
Once you break through the metaphoric shackles of the American diet and are able to enjoy healthier outcomes due to the introduction of good carbs in your daily regimen, you can focus on how to get the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fats into your diet. These three categories are known as macronutrients or macros. Counting macros properly will be more important than just counting calories.
For now, focus on leaving the bad carbs behind and enjoying the good carbs that are right for your body!