Friday, May 13, 2011

Carbohydrates: Cut Back Not Out!

By Tara DelloIacono Thies, RD, Clif Bar & Company

In the quest for the optimal weight loss plan, it’s likely you are one of the many women who has tried swearing off carbohydrates forever. If you are,  then you’ve probably discovered that you miss do end up missing the tastes and textures offered in carbohydrate foods (the crunch of pretzels, the bite of al dente pasta). Maybe you’ve even experienced a “bread breakdown,” the uncontrollable urge to sink your teeth into a satisfying freshly-baked slice!
If you’ve experienced these urges, lose all guilt. The fact is your body needs healthy carbohydrates, and your physiological need is stronger than your will to deprive yourself of necessary nutrients. The trick to weight management is not to eliminate whole food groups but to choose wisely, not overdo it, and indulge only on occasion.
Cut Back; Don’t Cut Out
Trendy diets love extremes. So, instead of cutting back, they cut out. Cutting out whole food groups is not the healthiest way to lose and no way to maintain weight loss.
Carbohydrates fuel our brains for clear thinking and our muscles for energized movement. The body breaks down carbohydrates to the simplest form of usable energy, a sugar molecule known as glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel for both your brain and muscles. Fat can also be used for energy but not be without enough carbohydrates to “light the fuse.” Some carbohydrates must be present to kick-start the use of fat.
Even the most popular low-carbohydrate weight loss plans acknowledge that the body needs a portion of its calories from carbohydrates. After a period of ill-advised carbohydrate deprivation, most low-carb plans reintroduce carbohydrates back into the diet in modest amounts. The truth is, in moderation, all foods can fit into a healthy diet.
That said, some foods are better than others.
Are There Really “Good” and “Bad” Foods?
When it comes to diet, we like clear, simple messages with no gray area, so we know exactly what we should and shouldn’t eat. Instead of labeling foods as better or worse, we label them as good or bad. Good and bad food labeling can set you up to feel guilty when eating even a small portion of the “bad” food, but, in fact, a small portion of anything is just fine.
While extreme, good and bad lists may help you in early attempts at better food choices. As you become more comfortable with new dietary habits such as portion control, you can redefine the terms as follows:
  • Good Carbs = foods you eat more of and more often which are less refined foods: whole grains, fruit, vegetables.

  • Bad Carbs = foods you eat less of and less often which are more refined: baked goods, pasta, white bread, candy.
Freedom of Choice
Carbohydrates come in many forms, some being better for you than others. It pays to be choosy. Many people are unaware that carbohydrates bring more to your table than an insult of blood-sugar-spiking sugars.
“Good” carbohydrates provide energy and nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients that help to keep us healthy), and fiber. These “good” carbs give you more bang for your buck: whole wheat, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, not only keep you energized and alert, but also provide valuable antioxidants that build defenses against illness and disease so you can stay well. “Good” carbohydrates that are high in fiber are also more slowly digested, which helps control weight by keeping you feeling full longer and having a more moderate effect on your blood sugar.
Unfortunately, “bad” carbohydrates are the ones most often over-consumed: soda, potato chips, white bread, white rice, and white flour noodles. Bad carbohydrates offer little more than empty calories. Low-carbohydrate diets exclude these foods because they hardly contain any fiber, and when consumed alone, they digest quickly leaving you hungrier than before you ate them.
Keeping Rice and Pasta in Your Life
You don’t need to say good-bye to rice and pasta forever. Smaller portions, small snacks throughout the day, and combining various foods (not eating carbohydrate-rich foods by themselves) can allow you to enjoy their taste and texture and still lose weight. Eating rice and pasta as a small side dish with protein and fiber-containing foods, such as lean steak with a 1/2 cup of rice and a large spinach salad, can make bad carbohydrates better by adding to the total nutrient value of the meal and slowing digestion, avoiding any post-meal hunger pangs. You could improve the meal further by choosing whole grain rice such as wild, brown, or long grain rice. These rice selections are less refined and contain more fiber than white rice.
Small snacks should be made up of two items: one containing a protein such as almonds and one containing good carbohydrate such as a piece of fruit. Not combining foods can make up for excessive consumption of sugary foods and drinks. So if you can’t keep your portions small, avoid these foods all together.
So if that nasty guilt sets in remember carbohydrates are important to your body for momentum, clear thinking, and strong immunity.
Following our tips, along with exploring new and healthier options, will help you enjoy the wellness “good” carbohydrates can offer