It’s time to give up the carb guilt. When we pack on the pounds, we often blame it on eating too many carbohydrates. But not all carbs are loaded with starchy calories. And if you severely limit how many carbs you eat — to the point where even a dry cracker seems like a splurge — you’ll be missing some of the tastiest, most nutritious, and, yes, most slimming foods around. Below are the top reasons you can enjoy your carbs.
When was the last time you had the flu and craved a steak?
When we don’t feel well, we usually reach for the comforting starches such as pasta and rice we were given as kids. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereals with oats or other whole grains, stimulate the brain to produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is the feel-good hormone that helps regulate our mood, sleep and appetite. It also helps fight pain. Other serotonin-inducing carbs include whole wheat pastas, brown rice, bulgur and sweet potatoes.
Doughnuts may never be health food, but carbohydrates typically contain only four calories per gram. Most foods that are naturally high in complex carbohydrates (broccoli, red, green and yellow peppers, beans, corn and brown rice) are not calorie-dense, yet they are filling and satisfying. That’s why cutting carbs from your diet when you’re trying to lose weight can be counter-productive.
A recommended serving is either one slice of bread, 1/3 cup of rice or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal such as oatmeal.
Many carbs are low in sugar and rich in fiber. In addition to helping you feel full, fiber gives you lots of other important health benefits.
Insoluble fiber (known as roughage) aids in digestion and can help prevent constipation. Wheat bran and whole wheat products, which are complex carbohydrates, are sources of insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber, found in oats, carrots, and apples, forms a viscous gel which helps to decrease the absorption of cholesterol, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Soluble fiber may also help stabilize blood glucose levels and help control diabetes.
To get your daily fiber load, switch to whole grain burger buns and whole wheat pasta. Try experimenting with some new grains like quinoa, amaranth and wheat berries. It’s recommended that adult women consume 21 to 25 grams of dietary fiber per day; men should get 30 to 38 grams. Examples of some fiber-filled foods include one slice of whole grain bread (3 grams) and 1/2 cup serving size of lentils (8 grams).
If you want to fight hunger pangs, make room for resistant starch in your diet. Resistant starch is a kind of dietary fiber found in many carbohydrates like potatoes, barley and beans. Resistant starches are formed when these foods are cooked and cooled, such as cooked-and-chilled potatoes. This nutrient may play a significant role in promoting weight loss by helping stave off cravings.
Although it’s not clear how much resistant starch we need each day, it can improve blood sugar levels and may even protect against certain cancers.
Complex carbohydrates provide a powerhouse of easily-obtained energy. In fact, they are the body’s main source of fuel for your muscles. It’s not only your muscles that benefit — your brain, bones, glands, hormones, heart and all of your body’s systems depend on a regular flow of carb energy to function optimally.
Whether you’re a fitness fan or would simply like to be more active, the intake of the right carbohydrates can really give you a competitive edge.
Energizing snacks include whole grain crackers with nut butter; fruit slices dipped in low-fat yogurt; or hummus with baby carrots. After a workout, you can refuel with a slice of whole grain bread and a string cheese, or a smoothie with skim milk, your favorite fruit and a few ice cubes.
Many people don’t realize that “good” carbs — including brown rice, celery, whole grains and strawberries — supply a wealth of vitamins, such as B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and C, in addition to minerals, such as chromium, manganese and zinc. Enriched grains are also a good source of folic acid and iron. Since carbs tend to be of plant origin, many provide a host of phytonutrients (chemicals in plants that boost health).
Examples of some of these super-charged foods and their disease-fighting chemicals include spinach (lutein targets eye-related ailments), tomatoes (lycopene fights prostate cancer) and sweet potatoes (carotenoids have been linked to longer life).