It’s easy to write off carbohydrates as the enemy. After all, many of us grew up hearing the praises of Atkins, and you probably know at least one person who won’t shut up about how going keto gave them the body of their dreams. Cut to a year later and most likely the dream body has returned to its former chubby self.
But don’t fall for it — forgoing carbs is not the golden path to weight loss, and certainly not the answer to feeling less bleh after indulging in some of your favourite foods. In fact, you're less likely to gain weight — and even develop some serious diseases — if you eat more carbs.
Grain is just one type of carb (fruits, vegetables, sugars, alcohol, and even some dairy are a carbohydrate). You can divide carbs up a few ways, such as sugars, fibre, and starch; but in terms of healthy and unhealthy, there are two categories: whole and refined.
“Whole” refers to anything that still has its original chemical composition. With, say, a kernel of wheat, it has an endosperm, bran, and germ, the latter two being where all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals are stored. For refined carbs, though, manufacturers strip out the healthy germ and bran and just leave the endosperm center.
it’s true that cutting carbs reduces water weight, But carbohydrates don’t make you retain fat.
In fact, a recent Stanford study of more than 600 adults found people who followed a healthy, low-fat diet — eating about 50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20% protein — lost the same amount of weight in three months as folks who ate a healthy, low-carb diet (30% carbs, 45% fat, and 25% protein). That’s probably because they ended up eating about the same number of calories naturally.
calories in, calories out is what's really important
Researchers found that after people ate foods high on the glycemic index (i.e., white bread, white pasta, and processed carbs), they were hungrier and had more activity in the parts of their brain associated with reward and cravings in the hours after eating, which directly influences what you'll eat at your next meal. When they ate non-processed foods low on the glycemic index, this wasn’t a problem.
so don’t overeat basically!
So, some carbs are better than none — but how do you tell which are healthy and which are a sugar trap? If you’re worried about navigating this carb-heavy time of year these six guidelines can help keep you on the right track:
1. Don’t assign emotional baggage to food. “Foods, including carbs, aren’t morally good or evil — they’re just food,” Moon says. Take away the emotional load and you’re left with science: What will and won’t make my body feel good.
2. Steer clear of anything white, unless it’s a whole vegetable. “For the most part, white means refined,” Young says. The next step is to read the ingredients, but generally, the only good food that’s white comes from potatoes, turnips, cauliflower, or tofu — and it’s usually pretty easy to tell if what you’re holding is the blank colour because of that or because it’s been uber-processed.
3. Eat closer to nature. You’ve heard this before, but it’s honestly the best rule in differentiating healthy carbs from unhealthy ones, Moon says. Opting for a baked sweet potato instead of sweet potato chips or an apple over apple juice not only guarantees you’re choosing healthy carbohydrates instead of the refined version, but feeling energized and fueled with the cleaner variety can help rewrite your associations that carbs are bad.
4. Only eat grains that say “whole.” Packaging that says “multi-grain” or just “wheat” are taking you for a sucker. “If it doesn’t say ‘whole’ before a grain on the nutrition label, it’s been processed and is missing that optimal nutrients and fiber,” Young says.
5. Fill one-quarter of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables. Remember, eating too many carbs regularly ups your risk of major diseases just as much as too few carbs. Don't miss out on the good, but try not to have too much of a good thing, either.
6. Eat as many vegetables and fruit as you want. Produce is super low in calories and incredibly high in fibre to help you avoid overeating, making it a great addition to any meal. Unless you’re following a specific macro plan, the carbs in fruits and vegetables won’t topple your plate portions.