Back in the 90's and early 2000's, we were told that a low-fat diet was the key to losing weight and staying healthy. Now, the tables have turned and we're told that a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates is the optimal way to burn fat and get shredded. Somehow the media and this new trendy diet has caused us to think that carbs are the reason we can't lose weight or look how we want in a bikini. There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to weight loss or even just maintaining a healthy weight in general. Things like genetics, inflammation, gut health, hormones, daily water intake, sleeping patterns, and timing of eating can all play a role in weight! Sounds frustrating and a bit overwhelming, right? Let me make it at least tiny bit less stressful for you. Carbohydrates are not your enemy and are most likely not the culprit for why you can't seem to lose the weight you want. The reality is, carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source, and I believe we'd be doing ourselves a major disservice by denying ourselves the opportunity to truly enjoy them. Now, if you're eating refined carbs like chips, pretzels, white breads and pastas, and processed baked goods every day, that can not only interfere with your goals, but also affect your overall health. But if you tend to focus on complex carbs such as whole and sprouted grains, fiber rich fruits, potatoes, oats, and starchy vegetables, odds are that you're doing just fine in that department.
When talking about refined carbs, we're thinking food items that have been stripped of their fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and essentially offer nothing of value to your body other than empty calories. Ever notice how after eating a bowl of cereal, a plain bagel, or a teeny granola bar (basically candy bar) you become hungry within an hour? That's because the carbohydrates in those types of foods have been metabolized so quickly and have entered the bloodstream as sugar to be used for immediate fuel. When this glucose isn't used for fuel within a certain time period, it then becomes stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells as fat for later use. These types of packaged and processed carbohydrates tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients within a minuscule serving size. It's no wonder we overdo it with snack foods, because the food industry tells us that 7 chips equals one serving size. That's delusional. Any normal person would want at least twice that amount if not more, mainly because these foods don't fill us up at all whatsoever!
Complex carbs on the other hand, which typically contain fiber, metabolize more slowly in the body and offer a long and steady release of energy. This prevents inducing a spike in our blood sugar and provides sustained energy throughout the day, keeping cravings for junk food at bay. So what are our options for a "complex" carb? There's quite a few options out there that sometimes also contain protein along with fiber and other nutrients.
Whole grains/sprouted grains
Beanitos chips (healthy tortilla chip alternative)
Stove top popcorn
A more extensive list includes tons of fruits and vegetables, various types of grains, legumes, and quality dairy products. I don't like labeling things as "good" or "bad" when it comes to carbs. In my mind, this can lead to too much restriction and an unhealthy mindset when it comes to eating. What I prefer to focus on is whether or not the food will provide me with nutrients and energy. If it doesn't, I usually say no to it and look for a healthier option. Does that mean I never eat refined carbs? Of course not. You're talking to the pizza queen here. I choose not to purchase or eat them on a regular basis because I understand not only what they're made with, but also how they usually make me feel afterwards. (Not so great). We all want to feel our best from day to day, and this comes directly from what we put into our bodies. Trust me, I don't eat perfectly. There's times I eat pizza for breakfast on the weekends and binge on chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants. Other times I eat half a bag of dark chocolate and then still want a full meal afterwards. With that being said, 90% of the time I still choose wholesome foods that will offer me the energy I need, keep inflammation at a minimum, and also taste awesome.
When it comes to carbs, people like to demonize bread. People argue that bread is too high in carbohydrates, thus making us fat. Well sure, when we eat a full basket of bread at the dinner table, we're not doing ourselves any favors. The real issue lies in whether or not we're choosing a minimally processed and high quality bread, not the fact that we've chosen to eat bread in the first place. Here's an example of what I mean. For clarity, let's compare and contrast the ingredients of Oroweat 100% Whole Wheat Bread and Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread. While whole wheat and whole grains are of course better than bleached or white flours, brands can be deceiving as to how high quality their "whole grains" really are. Other added ingredients tend to be the culprit.
Oroweat 100% Whole Wheat Bread:
Whole wheat flour (unclear if the grains are irradiated or brominated - aka, treated to extend shelf life)
Sugar (notice how this is at the top of the list?)
Raisin juice concentrate (sugar in disguise)
Molasses (more sugar)
Soybean oil (inflammatory oil)
Monoglycerides (a fat used to make bread lighter and fluffier)
Calcium Propionate (preservative)
Datem aka Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides (emulsifier)
Soy lecithin (used as a dough "conditioner" -what the??- and is typically made with GMO soybeans)
This brand markets that it contains 100% whole grains, no artificial colors, and no high fructose corn syrup. Great! But what about the other stuff added that contributes to and affects our health such as preservatives, emulsifiers, and those inflammatory and overly processed oils? Also, what's with 3 different sugars in our breads? This is where I think bread should get a bad rap. Not the idea of bread itself, but the ingredients store bought bread is typically made with. When it comes to carb products, check the ingredient list before you buy. Is it a complex carb that includes fiber? Check. Maybe some protein? Check. Preservatives, artificial ingredients, GMO soy? Place back on the shelf. These are the ingredients that can be detrimental to our weight and overall health. Let's compare these ingredients to Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Bread.
Ezekiel Sprouted Whole Grain Bread:
Organic Sprouted Wheat
Organic Sprouted Barley
Organic Sprouted Millet
Organic Malted Barley
Organic Sprouted Lentils
Organic Sprouted Soybeans
Organic Sprouted Spelt
Organic Wheat Gluten
Notice how in this list there's not a single ingredient we can't pronounce? That's the best sign to look for in your food products, let alone in the breads and carb products you choose. When made with high quality ingredients, carbohydrates can provide us with fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients that sustain and fuel our bodies! Sure, if we eat them in absolute excess every single day then it can absolutely contribute to weight gain when that energy is not being used efficiently. And when crappy ingredients are added to what should be very simple food items, that can also affect our weight whether we're looking to gain, lose, or maintain it. That goes without saying for ANY food product on the market, though. Not just breads, bagels, or baked goods. The main point is, carbohydrates are not our enemy and should be enjoyed and eaten on a regular basis, especially when coming from wholesome sources (preferably straight from the earth).
We've heard it since we were kids - everything in moderation. Don't limit your carb intake just because someone on the Keto diet lost 10 pounds. Don't restrict foods like bananas or potatoes because they're "starchy". Not everyone functions well on a high fat and low carb diet, but there are those that do thrive on it! Find the balance that works best for you and sustains you. Every single person functions a little bit differently, and while that may seem frustrating, it's really kind of awesome because it lifts pressure off the idea that there's one tried and true way of eating healthy! Now go eat some sprouted grain bread and enjoy. Team carbs.
For more information on this topic, sign up for my Healthy Living Workshop on Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Carbs, November 14th at 6 pm.