Let’s debunk the carbohydrate misconception! Does everyone remember about 10 years ago the big Atkins push? This was an epitome (in its initial presentation at that time) of an imbalanced, unsustainable eating program. Thankfully, they have since revised their program to not focus on eating meat in place of all of your carbohydrates. The phase then was to highlight our deficiency in protein.
We are still in a similar highlight in the recent push for receiving our protein source through meal replacements. We must remember the importance of healthy, balanced protein sources. Replacing carbohydrates, especially those that are healthy and complex, with fatty proteins is not balanced or healthy. If you are introduced to an option where you are restricted to eating a small number of foods instead of the variety we are biologically and ecologically offered, our bodies will eventually reject it. Mainly because it is out of balance and our bodies and our minds are smart enough to know this. It will be incredibly difficult to work against this innate biology that will push for the balance it needs in order to survive.
Let’s take the protein deficiency push as an example. Has anyone ever had a kidney stone? Yeah. Ouch. If you have, you know you do not want one again right? Kidney stones are an ultimate example of imbalance. It is amazing how our bodies work to keep it balanced in spite of some of the conflicting resources we provide it to operate each day. Not drinking an adequate amount of water, over-consuming one particular nutrient (like protein), the intake of highly processed, calorie dense foods instead of nutrient-dense foods all contribute to a system failure or reaction to say, “Hey, things are unbalanced!”
Whole grains contain bran, germ, and endosperm; refined grains only contain the endosperm. Phytonutrients found in foods such as whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes play a vital role in immune system function and promoting liver health. Fiber’s benefits are plentiful, including helping you feel fuller faster (which can aid weight control), revving up metabolism, and keeping bathroom visits regular.
Nutrient-dense foods contain high levels of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, but with few calories. These foods provide the most bang for your nutritional buck. They are high-quality and generally are minimally processed. Nutrient-dense foods play an important role in most diets, offering a variety of important properties per serving. This includes complex carbohydrates over your simple, refined carbohydrates that make up many processed foods.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. Berries, melons and some tropical fruits, such as mangoes and papayas, are considered nutrient-dense, as well as dark-green vegetables, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Lean meats are nutrient-dense as well. In addition to protein, beef and pork contain high levels of zinc, iron and B-vitamins. Many whole grains, including quinoa, barley, bulger and oats, are also nutrient-dense, especially ones that have been enriched with added vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron and zinc.
It is obvious that when it comes to healthy eating, calories count, not just in quantity but in quality as well. Make these exchanges in these five common carb options that are typical in our Standard American Diet (SAD). Making these substitutions are simple and are the nutrient-dense counterpart to the industry standard.
1. BBQ Baked Beans
In general, beans are full of filling fiber. However, BBQ baked beans can contain lots of sugar in the sauce leaning this item toward the calorie-dense category of foods without they nutrition impact.
A better option would be black beans with sautéed red bell peppers, jalapeno, lime and fresh cilantro. It is still flavorful, yet nutrient-dense without the high calorie content derived from added sugar.
2. Salad Dressings
While you are eating salad, which provides dietary fiber and important vitamins and minerals, you most likely could be consuming a large amount of calories, sometimes half of your daily intake, from the dressing — all concentrated in refined and processed carbohydrates such as added sugar. A better option to jazz up your greens is oil and vinegar (balsamic) with fresh herbs to enhance your flavor level.
3. Apple Slices with Carmel Dip (low-fat)
While you are eating an apple, which is a balanced offering of carbs and fiber, that caramel dipping sauce is refined carbs all from sugar. Low-fat does not equal healthy! Many times, low-fat items are higher in sugar, as it is added to replace the flavor that is missing from the removed fat. Swap the caramel for 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or other nut butter (almond, cashew, sunflower). You will be adding a healthy fat, along with protein.
4. Chicago Mix Popcorn
Popcorn is a source of whole-grains, and nuts are a source of fiber, protein and healthy fats. However, the caramel coating is derived from refined sugar, which has no nutritional value. Instead, make your own air-popped or stove-top popcorn with coconut oil or other healthy oil, like sunflower oil, and salt lightly with sea salt. Add toasted almonds for an additional crunch and flavor level.
5. Mashed Potatoes
You are also trying to incorporate veggies into your eating. Unfortunately, potatoes are starchy vegetable and, if the mashed potato has no skin, you have removed the fiber as well!
A better option is mashed butternut squash or mashed or riced cauliflower. They will give you the same texture and will add a new option to the run-of-the-mill meat and potatoes dinner that is common in our Standard American Diets (SAD).
Ultimately, weight gain comes down to portion control and understanding the sources of your nutrition: complex carbohydrates vs. simple, refined carbohydrates in processed foods.
Chicken, avocado, bread, and almonds are all amazing healthy foods, but if you eat too much of any of them you’ll gain weight. We need to look at the big picture and all of the ingredients in our foods or meals instead of picking out one ingredient or one vitamin or one mineral.
I tell clients to look at the first ingredient on the nutritional label as well as the fiber content. If it says whole wheat, great! If it says “unbleached whole wheat flour” as the first ingredient you’re not going to be getting the health benefits of whole grains as a complex carbohydrate.
It’s a lot to think about, but getting informed is your first step to healthy eating.
Photos courtesy of: sanguinie