Without a doubt, there’s been plenty of ‘carb confusion’ these days. Over the last few decades, carbohydrates have been both praised and demised, leaving many Americans confused as to whether or not to consume them. On one side, you have the higher carbohydrate, low fat plan that promotes weight loss. And it’s by no surprise that low carb, high protein/fat diets make the same claim. But what’s the answer? Are you supposed to eat carbs or not? Are carbs part of a healthy, balanced diet, or just a waste of calories?
My personal answer is this: CARBS ARE NOT BAD FOR YOU! Yes, you read that right. Carbohydrates are an important part of any healthy lifestyle. BUT, it’s important to differentiate from good carbs and bad carbs. Moreover, it’s important that your carb intake is in balance with other macro nutrients like protein and fat.
What are ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’?
The main difference between good carbs and bad carbs in how they’re manufactured and how your body processes them. In general, whole grains are considered good carbs, for they are rich in fiber, B vitamins, and other trace minerals like magnesium. Let’s start out by talking about the anatomy of individual kernels like those found in wheat. Each kernel has three parts:
- The bran–The outside of the shell of the kernel. This is where fiber and nutrients are stored.
- The germ–Sounds icky right? #Noteven! The germ is a nutrient-rich part of the kernel that is used for re-harvesting should the kernel be planted again instead of consumed.
- The endosperm— The largest part of the kernel, making roughly 83% of it. It’s filled with mostly starch.
In whole grains, or ‘good carbs,’ all three parts of the kernel are employed to make the flour. Naturally, the bran and germ of the kernel are darker, hence why whole grains tend to have a darker or more brown color.
The difference between whole grain/good carbs and refined/bad carbs is that the bran and germ aren’t used at all. White all-purpose flour is nothing more than the endosperm of thousands of wheat kernels that have been ground up to form a powder. Essentially, you’re consuming pure starch. Moreover, you’re not getting any of the essential nutrients you could be getting from a whole grain substitute. Add a crazy spike in your blood sugar that only leaves you fatigued and hungrier, and it’s safe to say that white/refined/processed carbs are straight up disgusting!
How should carbs be part of your healthy eating plan?
This is a question I get all the time. Friends and clients of mine realize that eating moderate amounts of good, whole-grain carbs is essential to a balanced diet. But many don’t know where to start. Keep these guidelines in mind when making choices about carbs:
- Go for WHOLE GRAIN foods–In case I haven’t stressed this enough, just about all of your carbs should be whole grains. This includes but is not limited to: whole grain wheat bread, whole grain wheat pasta, oats/oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn, beans/legumes, and ancient grains like amaranth, millet, and teff. Start off with 1/2-1 cup cooked and go from there. You might a little more or less depending on your caloric needs.
- Balance carbs in relation to your daily intake–Depending on your diet, carbs can take be as much as 60% of your diet or as little as 30%. Try not to make any one meal entirely carb-based; always have a little protein with each serving of carbohydrate so that your blood sugar doesn’t spike (this can still happen even with whole grain consumption). Examples of balancing carb intake is have eggs with toast, a rich and protein packed meat sauce with pasta, or greek yogurt with cereal.
- Decide before you eat each meal what kind of meal it’s going to be–This is probably a tip you haven’t heard from many health and fitness gurus. I personally like to choose between making either carbs or protein the shining star of my meals. For instance, most mornings I like to eat a carb-based breakfast, which is completely fine! But because I consciously know I’m choosing to eat a whole grain cereal, I also know this meal shouldn’t be too high in fat. If, on the other hand, I decide to have a protein packed breakfast, of course bring on the fat! Fat is a great macro nutrient that sustains energy. But, as you already guessed, this meal is relatively lower in carbohydrates. So in other words, higher carbohydrate meals should have lower fat levels and moderate amounts of protein. Higher protein meals can have more generous amounts of fat, but should be more moderate in carbs.
Where’s the recipe to this post?
It wouldn’t be a food blog without a recipe, right? Below is a super simple breakfast recipes that I literally eat for breakfast almost every day. It can be prepared in under 5 minutes, not to mention it tastes delicious. Better yet, it has only 3 ingredients!
Whole-grain Gluten-free Cereal with Greek Yogurt and Sour Cherry Preserves
2/3 cup gluten free cereal (I’m obssessed with the brand Nature’s Path, but you can honestly use any whole grain cereal you like)
1/2 cup plain non-fat greek yogurt
2 Tbsp organic sour cherry preserves
1. Mix the sour cherry preserves with the greek yogurt, set aside.
2. Place your cereal in a bowl. Top with yogurt mixture. Garnish with an extra sprinkle of cereal if you’d like.
Did I not tell you how easy that is?! It’s by far one of the simplest, yet most delicious recipes I know, and it’s been a secret I’ve used for a long time to stay in shape and feel great.
Feel free to jazz up this recipe with other treats! Sprinkle almonds, flax, or chia seeds for a healthy dose of Omega-3 fatty acids. Or try different flavored preserves. You can even add fruits for a more filling meal loaded with vitamins and antioxidants (my personally favorite is banana!).