Are you still afraid of carbs?
Low carb diets are incredibly popular. It is often considered common knowledge that carbs make you fat and you need to cut out carbs in order to lose weight. But science tells a different story.
Of course low carb diets work to lose weight quickly, but often they don’t help you transition into a long lasting healthy lifestyle. After weight loss it can be hard to keep the weight off. Another issue with low carb diets is the lack of certain nutrients. In this Keto diet post you can view a nutritional breakdown of a keto meal plan that clearly shows this form of dieting is not healthy at all.
Here’s the good news…
You can enjoy balanced meals that include healthy carbs and still lose weight! But before you get too excited about that donut in your cabinet let me explain the difference between healthy and unhealthy carbs.
There are complex carbs (healthy) and simple carbs (unhealthy), and they do not belong in the same category:
- Complex carbs are carbs that are surrounded by fiber which causes the food to break down slower. Therefore, it won’t spike insulin levels like simple carbs. Instead, it fuels your body with lasting energy.
- Simple carbs don’t contain any fiber, break down quickly, are refined or processed, and have similar effects as sugar. Most often these simple carbs are mixed with lots of fat (like in donuts).
Carbohydrate foods to avoid
Any carb heavy food that is processed, refined, doesn’t contain any fiber, or has multiple ingredients on the label is usually a simple carb and should be avoided or reduced. This would be most breads, some cereals, prepackaged snacks and treats, yogurts, and so on.
How to find healthy complex carbs
The easiest way to find complex carbs is to focus on whole plant foods: Whole oats, beans, vegetables, fruits. Healthy carbs are also high in fiber, sometimes contain water, are not processed, and do not have added ingredients like sugar and oil.
For rice and pasta choose the whole wheat products. If you compare the ingredient label you can see that whole wheat pasta contains more fiber per carb than white pasta and some pasta types only contain one ingredient. You can also try chickpea pasta, which is even healthier!
Bread often has a long ingredient list and even contains sugar and oils. At Aldi, the healthiest bread to find with a high amount of fiber is the Ezekiel bread or the German bread.
This bread uses whole foods, it is high in fiber, contains water, and does not contain sugar. Since this carb-food checks off as a healthy carb item, you can also see that it comes with other nutrients like iron and calcium. It is not stripped, processed, or refined.
For more education on carb to fiber ratio watch this video.
Studies have shown that “Daily consumption of 3 portions of whole-grain foods can significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure-lowering mechanisms” (source). Whole grains are a healthy food when consumed in a balanced diet and have less calories per gram than fat.
How many carbs should I eat per day to lose weight?
Losing weight really only depends on one factor: Eat less calories than you burn. If you eat 500 calories less than you burn you will lose about 1 pound per week. You can achieve this by cutting back on total food consumption (Tip: only eat until you are 80% full then stop), or by exercising more.
Some people feel full longer when they eat a higher amount of carbs, others prefer more protein or fat. This depends on your mindset. Only you can find out what works best for you. In this 5-day weight loss meal plan you eat about 300 carbs per day but they all come from whole foods like legumes, veggies, fruits, oats, and so on. At the same time, this meal plan provides 66g of fiber and 68g protein.
No matter how you meal plan, make sure not to go lower than 1700 calories and include all food groups (veggies, fruits, sources of protein, healthy fats). Here is a weight loss food pyramid for more guidance.
Best Carbs For Weight Loss
#1 Sweet Potatoes
Did you know that Okinawans, on average, live to 100 years and their BMI averages around 20? Pretty thin and healthy people even though they consumed mostly sweet potatoes.
“All Okinawans age 100 or more who are alive today were born between 1903 and 1914. During the first third of their lives, roughly before 1940, the vast majority of the calories they consumed — more than 60 percent — came from one food: the imo, or Okinawan sweet potato” (Huffpost)
One medium sweet potato contains 111 calories, 26g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g protein, and covers over 132% of your DV in vitamin A.
In China they tested 445 individuals with 298 overweight patients and divided them into a “usual care group”, “healthy diet group”, “50g oats a day group”, and “100g oats a day group”.
While the last three groups all reduced weight within 30 days and 1 year, “the 100g oats group had a significantly greater decrease in weight than the healthy diet group” (source). This study also pointed out that consumption of oats improved blood glucose levels of type 2 diabetes patients.
1/2 cup of dry oats contains 150 calories, 27g carbs, 4g fiber, 5g protein, and is high in zinc and iron.
Quinoa is a whole plant food that is packed with nutrients. Compared to brown rice, quinoa has less calories, less carbs, more fiber, and more protein. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8g of protein! This whole grain will make you feel full for a long time and should be preferred over rice.
Some people are afraid of eating fruits due to their sugar content. Fruits and vegetables contain carbs, but they differ from the carbs found in junk food (donuts, chips,…). The sugar that is found in whole plant food is surrounded by fiber. The fiber helps the sugar break down slower. As a result, blood sugar won’t spike as high.
This rule doesn’t apply for fruit sauces, purees, or juices as the fiber is stripped.
The fiber content, as well as the water content, in fruits will keep you feeling full for a longer time and it will give you energy. Therefore, fruits are great low calorie foods that provide energy, and important nutrients to fuel your body.
Beans (or chickpeas, lentils,..) are a great source of plant based protein. The protein and fiber content will also keep you feeling full longer. One cup of black beans contains 36g of protein, 58% DV of iron, 65% DV of zinc, 31g fiber, and they are high in B-vitamins and folates.
One study compared a high fiber bean rich diet with a low carb diet and came to this conclusion:
“A high-fibre bean-rich diet was as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, although only the bean-rich diet lowered atherogenic lipids.” (source)
So if you can expect similar weight loss results, why not choose the diet that also comes with added health benefits, like lowering bad cholesterol?