Food Freedom Friday Edition 130 - Eat Carbs

Life Is Too Short Not To Eat Carbs

Generally, when you consult with me about nutrition, we begin by reducing and monitoring carbohydrate intake and sugar load. This is because, once chewed and swallowed, all carbohydrates convert to glucose and are basically sugar to your body. The majority of the time, to restore health and/or burn fat you need to reduce your total sugar load and allow your body to heal from and remove its issues. Fat burning and healing struggle in the presence of a carbohydrate load that is too high for your needs.

As the body starts to regain and restore its equilibrium, people often begin to wonder whether they can let more carbohydrates back into their lives whilst maintaining health and body composition.  

Happily, for many, the answer to this is a resounding YES! The trick is to be smart about how you do it. There are certain simple strategies I use in my practice to ensure carbohydrates become and remain a positive and enjoyable aspect of your nutrition plan.

Nutrient density is key.

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, butternut squash, and fruits are high-quality carbohydrates because they contain a large amount of nutrients and a solid dose of fiber along with their glucose. Bread and pasta and refined grains have very few nutrients, while junk foods like doughnuts and cake have almost none.

This means you will want to choose starchy vegetables 9those that grown under the ground) over grains as often as possible. Consider high-carbohydrate junk food a rare treat, or a VERY mindful indulgence rather than part of your daily diet.

If you do choose to add grains back into your diet, I recommend sticking to organic, non-GMO grains that are gluten-free, ancient, sprouted, and/or fermented.

Think of carbohydrates as a condiment.

Most people grew up eating a diet based on the original food pyramid, which advocated carbohydrates form the central component of every meal.  This is one of the many factors contributing to the increase in those now battling belly fat, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

These days, it is understood that while a small dose of carbohydrates is perfectly healthy, a larger dose can lead to problems.  Enjoy your carbohydrates but limit them.

  • Rather than eating a humongous pile of gluten-free pasta for dinner, have a small side of these noodles and make a protein the star of your plate.
  • Add one serving of fruit as opposed to the entire fruit bowl to your morning smoothie. One serving of fruit is about a half cup of chopped fruit, a medium apple or pear, or a small banana (or half of a large banana).
  • Eat half a baked potato, not a whole one, as a side.
  • Learn to align your carbohydrate intake with your energy requirements. On days when you do intense workouts, add some extra carbohydrate fuel to your meals. On the other hand, on those days you are less active, go easy on high-carbohydrate sides or, better yet, avoid them altogether.

Go slowly.

One big secret to eating carbohydrates without gaining weight is to know how your body reacts to them. And this takes a little detective work.

To determine the right carbohydrate dose for your body, ease them back into your diet gradually. At first, I recommend calculating your daily carbohydrate intake by reading labels and using carbohydrate-counting apps. Later on, you will become better at creating accurate ‘guestimates’ of your intake.  

Start by monitoring how many grams of carbohydrate you do eat. Then increase this amount by 10 g for one week. You can then bump it up 10 g more for another week and so on. Keep adding a few carbohydrates each week until you feel satisfied with your carbohydrate intake, you are still feeling good and are not gaining weight. (For most people, a daily intake of about 100 g does the trick.) If the number on the scale starts going up, cut back to the amount of carbohydrates you ate the week before.

Know your own body.

Each person is an individual, no 2 are alike, and what works for someone else may not work for you. This is especially true when it comes to food. It is up to you to be your own food detective as you slowly reintroduce carbohydrates back onto your plate.

Some questions to consider:

  • Is your gut healthy? If you struggle with little to no GI problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and bloating, this is a good sign that your microbiome is in good shape and can handle small doses of carbohydrates with ease. If not, go very easy on high-carbohydrate foods and limit or avoid sugar and grains in particular.
  • Do you have any blood sugar problems? If so, and this does not apply solely to those who are diabetic, you need to watch your carbohydrate consumption very, very carefully. Take your blood sugar measurements on a regular basis and find out how many carbohydrates (and which types) your body can tolerate well.
  • Although I never recommend reintroducing gluten containing grains, many will do so regardless so it is important to as whether gluten cause problems for you. When you eat gluten-containing grains, do you experience bloating, brain fog, or other problems? If not, you can introduce small amounts of them back into your diet. Otherwise, give this category of grains a pass and opt for gluten-free breads and pasta.

Avoid emotional carbing.

People often turn to high-carbohydrate comfort foods as a way of dealing with stress or unhappiness. I totally understand this, because these carbohydrates are responsible for the release of some feel-good brain chemicals that can temporarily chase the blues away. (And yes… I myself have occasionally been known to enjoy rather large helpings of potatoes and cheese after a really rough day.)

However, if you continually turn to carbohydrates as a crutch to get through tough times, are not doing your health or your weight any favors and that, in turn, will make you even more stressed-out and unhappy. It becomes a vicious cycle.

To avoid this trap, make stress-reducing techniques part of your daily life. Great approaches include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and journaling.

I am also a huge proponent of treating yourself to non-food rewards when you need a “to feel a little happier. For instance, buy a new novel, take a bubble bath, or get a manicure. Visit with friends, take a drive into the country – whatever makes you smile.

Enjoy carbohydrates, that can be your friends, but treat them as casual acquaintances rather than your very best friends. Love them too much, and they will turn on you.  

Carbohydrates can be a healthy, delicious and fun part of your diet. If you are mindful and follow my tips you can enjoy them fearlessly. The only trick is remembering to keep them where they belong.  Enjoy them occasionally, and you’ll be just fine!

Michal Ofer