Weight loss clinics encounter many people who strive to slim down and have been convinced by the media and their peers to cut carbohydrates from their diets. From the once widely touted Atkins diet to the controversial ketogenic diet, these diets promise rapid initial weight loss. They are high in protein and fat, but they also shun a whole group of foods that provide vital nutrients, including fiber andcertain vitamins and minerals. Neither the American Dietetic Association nor the American Heart Association recommends low carbohydrate diets. Weight loss doctors want you to eat carbs, but not all carbs are created equal. Understanding what carbohydrates do for your body and choosing them wisely is essential in embracing a balanced nutrition plan that will enable you to lose weight safely.
Carbohydrates are the fuel for your body. They provide you with energy to get through your day, and your body also needs that energy to carry out its metabolic functions. When you do not consume enough carbohydrates, your body turns to converting its fat and protein stores into energy, which is not sustainable as a healthy lifelong habit. When you consume more carbohydrates than your body needs, the excess is stored as fat. The United States Department of Agriculture guidelines recommend that healthy carbohydrates should account for 45 to 65 percent of the total calories of your daily balanced nutrition plan. Do you know which carbohydrates are healthy choices?
Healthy carbohydrates are those that are high in fiber and that have not been processed. These are known as complex carbs because they must be processed extensively in your body to provide glucose for energy, and the slow and gradual distribution of that glucose prevents the blood sugar spikes that unhealthy carbs can cause. Some examples of healthy carbs include:
- Brown rice
- Beans and lentils
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams
Oatmeal is an excellent option for a healthy breakfast, as long as you choose old-fashioned rolled oats or steel-cut oats instead of instant oatmeal with added sugars and other ingredients. Likewise, potatoes are not a problem for healthy nutrition, as long as you are not adding unhealthy fats such as butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon to your potatoes when you prepare or serve them.
Fruit gets a bad rap because it contains a natural sugar called fructose. However, it is extremely difficult to take in too much fructose if you are only getting it from fresh fruit. Fruit is also high in fiber as well as vitamins and minerals, which your body needs, so do not fear eating two servings of fruit a day.
The healthiest foods are whole foods with one ingredient. What are the ingredients in a head of broccoli? The answer is broccoli. What are the ingredients in a bunch of spinach? The answer is spinach. What are the ingredients in a loaf of bread? This is where the answer becomes much lengthier and why bread becomes an unhealthy carb choice.
Carbohydrate options that contain added ingredients, as well as those that have undergone processing, are unhealthy choices. These are known as simple carbohydrates because they require little processing in your body. They are converted so quickly that their sugars end up flooding your bloodstream and causing your blood sugar to spike. Some examples of unhealthy carbs include:
- Processed cereals
- Pastas that are made with white flour
- Pastas that contain more than just whole wheat flour, water, and eggs
- Baked goods
White granulated sugar, brown sugar, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, and sweetened products such as candy and soft drinks offer no nutritional value to your diet. They only add empty calories to your daily intake, which will thwart your weight loss efforts.
When it comes to carbohydrate products, such as pasta or bread, unless the first ingredient on the ingredient list reads as whole wheat or whole grain, the flours used to make these products have been stripped of their nutrients and fiber, turning them into simple carbohydrates. Always read ingredient labels. Even that loaf of whole wheat bread likely has a laundry list of additional ingredients, such as preservatives and added sugar, which make the bread an unhealthy choice.
In addition to fueling your body, healthy carbohydrates can help you to feel satiated, which is valuable in your quest for weight loss and in keeping you on track for maintaining your healthy weight once your goal is achieved. Other benefits of healthy carbs in your diet include:
- Improved digestion
- Improved cardiovascular health through a reduction of LDL and an increase of HDL cholesterol levels
The only low-carb diet that you should be following is one that is low in pizza, chips, cookies, candy, french fries, pasta, and any other option that contains processed ingredients or refined sugars. By choosing healthy carbs instead and making them part of a nutrition plan that also includes lean proteins and healthy fats, you will lose weight in a way that can be sustained safely while improving your overall health.