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What’s the real deal with carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates often have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss and healthy eating, and it’s no wonder many people are confused about where to start.  The popularity of programs such as the Atkin’s Diet has led many to shun carbohydrates. The reason being is that many believe they are bad or inherently detrimental to weight loss. But in reality, moderate carbohydrate consumption, with a focus on balanced intake and whole grains can be a key component to steady and maintained weight loss – as well as an overall healthy diet. Below are 5 key tips to be Carb Smart!

  1. Choose Whole Grains. When it comes to carbohydrates, a lot of the dietary damage and “bad rap” is from highly processed white carbohydrates. As much as possible, these should be avoided and eliminated from our diets. Foods high in highly processed carbohydrates and added sugars are often low in nutrients, high in calories, and can contribute to a rise in triglycerides as well as weight. When including carbohydrates in your diet, especially starches, choose whole grain foods. At least half of all of your grains should be whole grains, but more is better! Aim for a bread with 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per slice. Choose brown rice, whole grain pasta, high fiber cereals without added sugar, and grains such as quinoa, faro, or barley.
  2. Eliminate Added Sugars. Like highly processed carbohydrates, added sugars are another area where carbohydrates can do damage to your diet. They add calories without adding nutrition – empty calories! Added sugar is found often in sugar sweetened beverages such as regular soda, sweetened iced teas, lemonades, and juices. They are also found in baked goods, many condiments such as ketchup and BBQ sauce, fat free products, and pantry staples such as breads and cereals. Check your food label for ingredients such as rice or corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, or sugar.
  3. Use the plate method. When trying to figure out how much healthy, whole grain carbohydrate or starch to include in your diet, consider using the plate method. This method says that ¼ of your plate should be taken up by a whole grain or starchy food. The remainder of your plate is taken up by lean protein (1/4) and non-starchy vegetables (1/2). This is an easy way to eyeball serving sizes when you can’t be more exact and break out the measuring cups. Remember, use a 9 inch plate to help keep serving sizes moderate!
  4. Aim for 100-130 grams of carbohydrates per day to promote weight loss. For those aiming to lose weight, a reduced carbohydrate diet can help, but our body (especially our brains) still needs carbohydrates to function properly. The range of 100-130 grams per day is a good place to start to ensure that you are getting adequate nutrients. Remember to spread carbohydrate intake out throughout the day and include a source of carbohydrate at each meal and snack.
  5. Don’t forget about non-starch sources of carbohydrates. Both dairy and fruits contain carbohydrates as well as other nutrients that are important for health and contribute to successful weight loss and weight maintenance. Fruit contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can be a healthy addition to a meal or component of a snack. Dairy, especially low-fat or fat free dairy, is a great source of protein, and can be incorporated into meals and snacks as well.
ABOUT
Paige Cross, MS, RD, LN pcross@billingsclinic.org

Paige Cross, MS, RD, LN is a registered dietitian with the Billings Clinic Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism program. She is a research coordinator and cares for patients in the WeightSmart medical weight management program.

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