By Shoshana Pritzker
Fear of carbs? Get over it! Enough of this “carbs make you fat” mumbo jumbo. It’s a shame that mainstream America hasn’t a clue that you don’t get fat from eating carbs. It’s true you can actually burn fat while eating them daily. The key is eating the right types of carbs at the right times. Refined carbohydrates like white bread and sugar are the wrong choices. Studies show that sticking with carbs like breads made with whole grains and legumes, wheat pastas, beans, and sweet potatoes are optimal while keeping intake to about 50 percent of daily calories.1
Sure, you can lose fat by cutting out carbohydrates. My question to you is, why cut out carbs completely from your diet if it’s not necessary for effective weight loss and control? Besides being absolutely delicious, carbs provide energy to fuel your day and more importantly, your workout.
Of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats) carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient in the human body. Because the body can convert protein and fats into energy in the form of glucose (sugar), carbohydrates may not be needed. However, that doesn’t mean you should ditch these energy-rich foods. As long as you’re eating the right carbs the “right way” you’ll be on your way to a tighter tummy.
The Right Stuff
A carb is not just a carb. The idea of using the Glycemic index for weight control stems back well over a decade to prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The Glycemic index is a ranking of foods on a scale of 0-100, based on the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after consumption. Foods that score high on the GI scale are those that absorb rapidly and result in a quick insulin spike, causing fluctuations in levels of blood sugar.
It’s those foods that we overindulge in, causing nothing but continual spikes in insulin when the body has no use for it. In the end, this sugar ends up being stored as fat. Rapid surges of insulin and blood sugar levels cause diabetes and obesity, two factors leading to heart disease and ultimately a shorter lifespan. Low-GI carbs absorb much slower, resulting in a gradual increase in blood sugar levels.
Studies have found that diets high in low-GI foods lower serum triglycerides, lipoproteins and cholesterol in the blood. They’ve shown to lower blood glucose and insulin levels in diabetics. Low-GI carbs show positive health benefits in weight control by increasing satiety, controlling hunger, improving insulin resistance and controlling insulin surges.2 So you see, not all carbs are created equal.
In order to determine which carbs fall under which end of the spectrum, you can do one of two things: log on to the official Glycemic Index homepage, glycemicindex.com, and search their database for any given food, or you can come to an understanding of what types of foods are identified as high- or low-GI. Here’s a primer on the latter option to break things down for you.
To start, let’s focus on what rating is considered high, low or moderate. A GI rating of 70 or higher is considered high, 56-69 is considered medium, while 55 and below is low. Remember, the amount of carbohydrate in a food is also to be considered, when determining how fast a food will be digested.
To be on the safe side, it’s always ideal to stick with natural foods. Highly processed baked items and prepared foods tend to be higher in sugar, as well as saturated fat and empty calories, resulting in a higher rating on the GI scale. Whole grains, legumes, beans, and even fruits are all better choices than white breads, white rices, and of course cakes, cookies and sweets. Just because a food is considered natural doesn’t mean it’s low on the GI scale. Those items are best consumed post-workout, when your body will use that spike in insulin to shuttle protein in to the muscle for repair.
For instance, an excellent post-workout carb source might be some pineapple or rice cakes because they lie moderate-to-high on the GI scale. While your best choice for a breakfast or lunch meal would be a couple of slices of Ezekiel toast (flourless bread) or some hummus with carrots. Are you seeing the big picture here? The idea is to use carbs when most needed (breakfast, first half of the day, and post-workout).
The bottom line: carbs don’t make you fat … overproduction of insulin does! Control insulin by controlling the foods you eat and it’s a win-win situation. You can eat carbs and stay trim too!
5 Tips for Eating Carbs
1. Choose whole-grain hot or cold cereals for breakfast. These foods refuel your energy stores from a night of fasting, providing energy for your day. They’ll also keep your tummy full between meals.
2. Try incorporating breads made without flour like Ezekiel 4:9 by Food for Life. Make yourself a sandwich and throw it in a cooler for lunch. Flour (white or brown) both absorb rapidly so drop it whenever possible.
3. Skip the sugary beverages. Drinking your carbs is a great way to fill up on excess calories. Leave your carb intake to whole-food meals; they’re nutrient dense and more filling.
4. Bring on the beans. Chickpeas, beans, lentils and even soybeans have considerably low GI scores and are delicious additions to any healthy diet.
5. Pair your carbs with healthy fats and lean proteins. Protein and fat (especially fat) absorb quite a bit slower than carbohydrates. Pairing these items will slow the absorption of the meal altogether. Not to mention, you’re creating a more balanced meal that way.
1. Merchant, A.T. et al (2009). Carbohydrate Intake and Overweight and Obesity among Healthy Adults. American Dietetic Association, 109:1165-1172.
2. De Natale, C. et al. (2009). Effects of a plant-based, high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet vs. high-monounsaturated low-carbohydrate diet on postprandial lipids in type 2 diabetic patients. Diabetes Care.