It’s that time of year again!
Now that the Yom Tov is over, many people are committing to new and improved eating habits. Some of us just want to get back into a healthier routine, and others are motivated to lose the extra pounds they may have gained over Yom Tov. It’s great to see people enthusiastic about making positive changes, but I’ll admit that sometimes I cringe listening to how they are attempting to meet their goals. One popular misconception about the best route to weight loss is that you need to avoid carbohydrates to lose weight.
One gram of carbohydrate has the same number of calories (4) as one gram of protein. So what have carbs done to deserve such a nasty reputation? Let’s examine to facts: Carbohydrates function to provide your body with energy. Carbs are broken down to glucose, the simplest form of sugar, and travel through the bloodstream to provide your cells with a source of energy. Eating carbs in excess or outside the context of a balanced diet can lead to blood sugar fluctuations resulting in fatigue, increased hunger, and overeating. Not helpful! Also, many foods that are high in carbs are also high in calories (such as candy, pastries, chips, and soda), so yes, if these foods are major players in your diet, they are likely to trip you up in your attempt to shed extra pounds.
Another reason carbs are considered “the bad guys” is because inadequate carbohydrate intake leads to ketosis , a metabolic condition that can cause loss of appetite and dramatic weight loss – within the first few days. Much of what is lost is body fluids, and this rate of weight loss cannot be maintained.
A question I am often asked is, “Just tell me - what’s the BEST diet?” My response is “The one that you can stick to!” Fad diets are appealing because they promise to deliver results quickly, but if you will regain the weight just as quickly, it’s a pointless proposition. It’s far more effective to make lasting changes that will help you lose the weight and keep it off, and trying to eliminate an entire food group, such as carbs, does not make for a smart long-term strategy.
Besides, carbs are difficult to avoid. The list of carb-containing foods includes grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. As you can image, a “no-carb” diet would be lacking many essential nutrients; it would also be very challenging to maintain! Fortunately, for most people, there is no reason to strictly avoid carbs. If you want to achieve healthy, long-term weight loss, you can benefit greatly from including nutritious sources of carbohydrate into your diet.
One of the best ways to stay satisfied while still keeping your caloric intake within limits is to eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Non-starchy vegetables are very low in carbs. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and winter squash, are higher in carbs but they also contain fiber, which helps keep you full. Whole grains (including wheat, oats, barley, and anything made from them, such as bread, cereal, and pasta) are an excellent source of fiber. Legumes, such as beans and peas, are high in both fiber and protein – a combo that will keep you energized and satisfied. Eating fruit can help you maintain a healthy diet by providing a nutritious source of sweetness, and a number of studies have shown that eating dairy products can enhance weight loss efforts. These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that are important to your health, and it’s a pity to eliminate them without a medical reason.
Including carb-containing foods can also make it easier for you stick to healthy eating by adding element of satisfaction to your meal. A lunch bag with a container of salad and tuna seems meager, but put in a whole grain roll or some crackers and your meal is more substantial. A plate of grilled salmon with veggies can look lonely, but takes on a new appearance when you add a scoop of brown rice. The key is to include these foods IN THE RIGHT AMOUNTS, because it’s easy to get carried away with carbs. For example, whereas a big bowl of pasta tastes good but does not constitute a balanced meal, a plate with stir-fried veggies and chicken with a cup of pasta does. You’ll feel better after eating a meal built with foods from a variety of groups, and your caloric intake will be lower.
In short, here’s the deal when it comes to carbs: keep your sources nutritious and your portions in check, and you may find that carbs help rather than hinder your weight-loss efforts.