This decades-long dialogue surrounding carbohydrates doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. First we’re told carbs are the enemy, then we’re told low-carb diets are a fad we can all forget, and then new research surfaces that says staying away from carbs is actually an effective strategy for weight loss. Talk about confusing! However, one idea most experts agree upon is that cutting out entire food groups is not sustainable long-term. But the question of how to eat carbs and lose weight still remains. The answered is a little more involved than “switch to brown rice.”
Keep reading to find out how carbohydrates can be instrumental to maintaining a healthy weight!
You already know it’s best to choose whole-wheat bread and pasta over traditional varieties, but there’s more to it than that. Eating the right kind of carbs translates into eating starch-resistant carbs, which mean they resist digestion. Carbs high in resistant starch are more filling than certain types of food, including protein. They also speed up your metabolism and your body’s natural fat burners because as they move through your digestive system (slowly), they release fatty acids that encourage fat burning. Peas, beans, lentils, potatoes, yams, oats, bananas, barley, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and rye and pumperknickel bread are all starch-resistant carbs.
When a carb craving hits, consider this: Cold and reheated pastas and potatoes have more resistant starch than freshly cooked pasta or potatoes (Note: This does not apply to fried potatoes, unfortunately). The cooking and cooling process changes the makeup of the food and converts starches into resistant starches, making it even healthier for you than when you first prepared it. Bring on the leftovers!
Timing is everything. The best times to eat carbs revolve around your insulin levels. Your insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning, after a night of not eating. Your body has been using its existing glycogen stores to maintain your body functions throughout the night. So in the morning, there’s room to store more carbs and the amount of insulin needed to do so is at its lowest. In a nutshell, carbs are burned most efficiently earlier in the day. Make your before-noon meals higher in carbohydrates and trend smaller as the day goes on.
Apart from morning, the other ideal times to eat carbohydrates are before and after a workout. Eating carbs one to three hours before a workout gives you energy, and because insulin responses are muted during exercise, your body uses those carbs to replenish the glycogen that gets depleted. After a workout, your muscles have used up all of the glycogen and are ready to soak up the glucose in your blood. They’re so starved for glucose that they are able to take the carbohydrates you eat and convert them into glycogen without any help from insulin.
One of the key things to remember is that carbs should be part of your meal, but not the focus of it. They should take up roughly one quarter of your plate. Fill the rest of your plate with lean proteins, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits and low-fat dairy products. Portion control is also crucial. A serving size of bread is two slices, limit pasta to one cup cooked, and potatoes should be no larger than a computer mouse. Pretty much everything else from grains to beans should be served by the half-cup.
Chips, pizza, chocolate cake, and the like can all make an appearance in your diet. If you deprive yourself of something you’re craving, that craving is only going to come back stronger. And when you do give into a carb craving, do it for real. Your body (and your brain) knows the difference between a prepackaged, low-carb, low-sugar, fat-free chocolate cupcake and the delicious one you’re really craving from the bakery down the street. Chances are a few bites of the real deal will satisfy your craving better than polishing off the entire substitute. Take the time to enjoy it, don’t beat yourself up for eating it afterwards, and then get back into the eat-right mentality.
Do you try to eat low carb? Tell us your favorite tips in the comments!