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Great sources of fiber!

Ten Steps To A Carb Overhaul

Ten years ago, I could never have written this article.  My diet has changed significantly since then as a result of working with patients with chronic disease, especially diabetes and coming to terms with my own family history of type 2 diabetes.  I still had a child at home who along with my husband was the recipient of my increased awareness and experimentation with different recipe recreations.  Like the gradual shifting of the coast line of Maine, I gradually shifted my taste buds, food expectations, and purpose of food.  It started with the tangibles of eating, but soon became the intangibles of eating like eating patterns, boredom, and meal planning strategies.  These are the steps that helped me to overhaul my carbs.

Ten Steps to Your Carb Overhaul

Carb overhaul

This is a carb overhaul!

1.  Eat more non-starchy vegetables.  These aren’t carbs but they replace some of those not-so healthy carbs you might otherwise choose to go with your meat.  I know many people say they hate them or just skip them all together.  But the reality is those people haven’t really given them their best shot at trying a variety of them or finding a way to prepare them so they can at least tolerate them.  You don’t have to love them.  You just need to consume them.

Aside from all the vitamins, minerals and fiber, they will more importantly give you volume, color and jazz on your plate that the extra carbs used to take.  Can you imagine the plate above. without all the tomatoes, onions, peppers and olives?   I think I would be searching the cabinets before dinner was even cleaned up!  I recommend keeping cut up fresh veggies to have with hummus or yogurt dip.  Add a veggie to breakfast by having a smoothie or making an omelette.   Sneak them in soups or puree them into tomato sauces.   Mix them in your mashed potatoes.   Add them to sautees.  Play with it, find what works, and double up on what you like so you can get at least 2-3 cups in the course of the day.

2.  Experiment with other grains.  Nothing is more indicative of a carb overhaul than a flirtation and eventually an adoring relationship with grains.  Grains like quinoa and farro have a nutty flavor and can be eaten for breakfast or are great added to soups and sautes.  A quarter cup of dry quinoa has 5 grams of fiber and protein.  I made a custard with quinoa instead of rice that was delicious.  Not only was it wonderful for dessert but it made a great breakfast with lots of fiber and protein from the grain and eggs.

A quarter cup of dry farro has 7 grams of protein and fiber.  I use farro and other grains instead of rice.   I added farro to my chicken soup instead of rice or noodles.  It gave it more texture and it handled reheating much better than noodles.

3.  Explore different beans.   Dried beans are loaded with vitamins, fiber and protein.  And they are cheap.  Before you go to bed just dump the beans in a pot and soak them over night and slow cook them in a crock pot or a pan for a few hours.  I freeze the extra I can’t use that day.  Try my Three Bean Salad which lasts a week in the frig and is a wonderful side dish in the summer, full of fresh veggies, cilantro and lime juice.

If you can’t be bothered with that process then buy canned beans or try lentil beans which take only an hour to cook.  A quarter cup of dried lentils has 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein.  They make a great soup, can be mixed with other grains or can be a salad topper.

4.  Determine your trigger carbs and get them out of the house.  For me it was potato chips.  I tried getting smaller bags, getting individual bags, and even substituting them for black bean chips, but I finally figured out that I just couldn’t have them in the house in any amount or related form.  The black bean chips were tasty and a little less of a draw but I still ate too many of them.

I finally figured out that I was occasionally ok with getting the one or three ounce bag of them on rare occasions.  For some people keeping them out of sight, like in the cabinet or closet can eliminate the temptation but from my experience very few people are able to do that.  It takes just one bad day, bad conversation, or some other moment of weakness and they are quickly devoured.

5.  Stop the juices, sodas, flavored coffees, vitamin waters, chocolate milk.  Throw out the containers of orange juice or other fruit drinks or juices and instead, just eat your fruit.  You will get more fiber, less processing and lots of vitamins.  Juice glasses are bigger than in the past and 8 oz of juice will give you 30 grams of blood sugar spiking carbs with little natural fiber.  Stop the sodas, even the diet sodas, they only elevate the bar for our taste buds.  Try seltzer water or water with lemon.  Your tongue will adjust.

frotherNo more mocha, choca, lots-of-carbs hot drinks.  Invest in a coffee grinder, grind your own fresh coffee beans and get a frother.  I LOVE my freshly ground coffee and can enjoy it with just a 1/2 tsp of sugar or a bit of Stevia and lots of fresh 1% frothed milk!

6.  Change your expectations of food textures and density.  Whole grain cereal, crackers and bread will be denser, nuttier and chewier.  If you are one of those people who doesn’t eat the crust, this will take some time.  Start with oatmeal bread.  Try Triscuits instead of Ritz crackers.  Add quinoa to your white rice.  Try Uncle Sam’s cereal instead of Honey Bunches of Oats.  Or maybe you just need a complete overhaul a few days a week and try something totally new instead of just trying to recreate a favorite meal.  I started a couple of months ago making my smoothie 5 days a week and I really love it.  It never really occurred to me until I saw my daughter making one.  It just wasn’t in my repertoire until recently.

7.  Make your desserts healthy.  This is an opportunity to be creative.  Get a serving of fruit and whole grains by making a fruit crisp.  Get a serving of milk, fruit and whole grain by making a quinoa custard.  Cool off in hot weather with a berry/Greek yogurt popsicle by combining the two in a blender until smooth and then pouring in popsicle molds.  Or get an ice cream maker and try making your own fruit ice cream.

8.  Get your family and coworkers on board.  You can please some of the people at least some of the time.  Get your people on your team.  A carb overhaul isn’t a punishment.  Food is not just about filling a void.  It’s about giving your body what it really needs so it can work right and treat you right, plain and simple.  Make it fun, it’s all in the attitude.

9.  Have your LDL and blood sugar checked before and after your diet change.  I tell my clients to give it three months.  It takes about 3 months for awkward changes to be comfortable, for cholesterol to come down from all the extra fiber and for blood sugars to stabilize.  If your LDL was high before, I guarantee you it will be lower.  If your fasting blood sugar was elevated or approaching 100, I guarantee you it will be lower.  And I guarantee you the changes you have made will be more comfortable, less awkward and your creativity will be sparked.

10.  Notice how you feel over time.  This is the payback.  You will feel better.  Your life will become a ten.  Your energy level will become a ten.  People will notice.  Your spirits will improve because your body is getting just what it needs and it will perform at a ten.  Just try it for three months and try your hardest.  Don’t focus on what you are giving up, focus on what you are getting.   I know this to be 100% true.

good carbs

Make Your Carbs Count

Some of us are carnivores, people who crave steaks, ribs and other bloody meat, and some of us are carbivores, my definition of people who crave chips, cookies and candy.  But too many carbs, especially the processed ones, do us more harm than the few minutes of pleasure we get from eating them.  It’s not about abstention from them; it is about making informed choices.

Carbohydrate Sources

Carbohydrates (carbs) are those foods that contain sugar, starch and/or fiber.  Some grow naturally in the environment while others are manufactured.  Naturally occurring carbs inherently contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than manufactured carbs.  Manufactured carbohydrates are often times more manipulated to enhance shelf life, taste, advertising appeal and texture.  These are the kinds of manufactured carbohydrates I’m referring to in this article.  It’s the degree and intent to which these “man-made” carbs are manufactured that is the issue when it comes to health.

Naturally Occurring Carbs

Naturally occurring carbs include fruits and starchy veggies, legumes and whole grains, and some dairy.  The amount of carbohydrates found in fruits can vary depending on the kind and the ripeness.  A cup of grapes has 28 grams of carbs, while a cup of raspberries has 15 grams.  Less ripe fruits have more resistant starches in them that are not digestible while riper fruits have more of their starch converted to easily digested sugar, raising their carb load and their impact on blood sugars.  Starchy veggies include all potatoes, corn, peas and winter squashes.  Think of veggies that are denser and sweeter.   Lower carb veggies are less sweet and have a higher water content like celery, zucchini and broccoli.

And like those resistant starches converted in riper fruit, the same thing happens when grains are cooked longer.  Soft pasta has a higher carb load than the less boiled al dente pasta.

Milk has the natural occurring sugar, lactose, which adds about 12 grams of carbs per cup.  Cheese and plain unsweetened yogurts, especially plain Greek, have less lactose, therefore fewer carbs.

Manufactured Carbs

Manufactured carbs include things like certain breads and pasta, candy and baked goods, chips and crackers, and ice cream and fruit-filled yogurt.  In particular I want to focus on the manufactured carbs that strip the good, naturally occurring benefits out of the product and then try to add other ingredients to artificially enhance a product.

Manufactured goodness pasta labelFor example, Barilla Plus pasta tries to appeal to the health conscious consumer by advertising on their food label “multigrain”, “protein, fiber and ALA Omega-3”.  When you look at the complicated food label you can see that what they’ve done is take wheat flour (only part of the wheat berry) and blended it with flour from lentils, chick peas, flaxseed(tha t’s how it gets to promote the ALA omega 3), oats and barley, and enhanced the fiber artificially by adding oat fiber, enhanced the protein by adding egg whites, and enhanced the nutrients by adding vitamins and iron.  There are 16 ingredients in this product.  Now compare that to Luigi Vitelli organic pasta which contains only one ingredient – whole wheat durum semolina flour grown organically – and you can see what I am talking about.  Not only is the Luigi pasta higher in naturally occurring fiber but there is no food manipulation going on.  A food shouldn’t brag on the front of the box when there are 16 ingredients in it when only one truly good ingredient is needed.  You don’t need to mess around with mother nature to try to enhance a product.

Another example is oatmeal.  Oatmeal comes as quick cooked, old-fashioned, steel-cut and in its pure form, the “grout”.  You can find quick cooked that has added fiber to make consumers think they are getting a really good thing but they really aren’t in this case. Quaker Oats High Fiber Instant Cinnamon Swirl Oatmeal is made from precooked and dried oatmeal, a created fiber called maltodextrin, sugar and sugar substitute, caramel coloring and vitamins and minerals to make it sound really healthy.  Keep in mind that maltodextrine is a type of  manipulated fiber that doesn’t provide the same health benefits of naturally occurring fiber.  This cereal gets high ratings for taste but in a man-made, less healthy way.  The less processed the oatmeal grain – which starts with the grout, the more naturally occurring fiber, vitamins and minerals you will get.  You’re better off eating steel-cut oats flavored with a teaspoon of honey and cinnamon than a quick cooked sweetened oatmeal if you are really trying to take care of your health.

In general, look at the number of ingredients in a label when you are comparing similar foods.  The fewer the ingredients, the less man has manipulated it, and the more nature leaves its imprint.

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs

I think of carbs as the body’s gas pedal.  When you eat a lot of manufactured carbs, especially ones made with white flour and lots of sugar, the body’s rpm’s go really high.  This causes blood sugars to go really high and the pancreas to have to work really hard to take care of the extra blood sugar.  Getting back to the car metaphor, carbs are the gas pedal and the brake pads are the pancreas.  Eating foods that are highly processed, laden with sugar and stripped of the bran and germ of the grain is like pressing down hard and fast on the gas pedal and the pancreas, like the brake pads of your car, gets worn out.

Not "whole" foods

Not “whole” foods

These kind of carbs in the picture at left, are what cause the insulin spike and when consumed frequently, keep blood insulin levels high creating the cascade of events mentioned in the previous post.

Getting back to the gas pedal metaphor, choosing mostly intact carbs with little processing like whole grains, fruits and beans it’s like gently putting your foot on the pedal to  accelerate.  When you choose these kinds of carbs you get a more gradual blood sugar rise and put less stress on the pancreas.  And because they are high in fiber you stay fuller longer – which is like getting more mileage for the same amount of gas.  Furthermore, the best payback that I hear from my clients is that they have more energy.  With fewer blood sugar swings there are also fewer times during the course of the day where they have trouble focusing and feel sleepy.

How Many Carbs Should You Have?

Last post I talked about reducing carbs to the lower end of the Institute of Medicine acceptable range of around 45% of total daily calories.  How many grams of carbohydrates does that amount to for a day?  First you need to calculate your recommended daily caloric needs that considers your age, sex, height and activity level.  The Mayo Clinic has a nice interactive calculator you can use here.

For me to maintain my current weight considering my activity level, I would need 2100 calories daily.  To determine my daily carbohydrate needs Based on the points made in my last post, I will multiply the 2100 calories by the 45% and then divide it by 4 since there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate.

                                                                     2100 X .45 = 945                                                                                                                                              945/4 = 236 grams

If I divide the 236 grams over my three meals it works out to about 80 grams per meal.  If I were to have a snack containing carbohydrates I would reduce the carbs in the meals accordingly.  You can look at the food label under total carbohydrate to see how many grams a serving has.  For those foods that do not have a food label The Calorie King Calorie and Carbohydrate Counter Book is a nice resource.  Keep in mind that many prepared food items contain more than one serving.  The Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese in the above picture actually contains 5 servings in the box.  Many people would either eat the whole box or split it with someone.

How To Begin

  • Cut out or reduce your soda intake.   A 12 oz. coke has 55 grams of sugary carbs.  Try seltzer water with natural flavoring or tea.
  • Reduce the amount of chips you ea.   A serving of Stacy’s pita chips has 19 grams of carbs.  Measure your portion and put it on a plate, do not eat out of the bag.  And don’t think that just because pretzels have little fat and are low in calories are a good choice.  Most pretzels are make with white flour.  Eating a few servings of those is just like putting the pedal to the metal.
  • Switch to black coffee or coffee with whole milk with less sugar or use Truvia.  A vanilla Frappuccino at Starbucks has 68 grams of carbs.
  • Eat your fruit instead of drinking it so you get the fiber.  Juice glasses use to be 4 ounces, now they are 8 oz – that’s 30 grams of quickly digested sugary carbs.
  • Cut out the donuts and muffins (unless it’s my high fiber, high protein recipe) and eat a breakfast with more protein and fiber from whole grains and fewer carbs- like my frittata with 2 pieces of whole grain bread.  Or something more simple might be a cup of plain Greek lowfat yogurt, with 1/2 cup of thawed frozen berries and some chopped nuts.
  • If you are a candy lover switch to one small piece of dark chocolate which is lower in carbs (4 gms) and has heart healthy flavonoids.  A candy bar like 3 Musketeers can have 42 grams of sugary carbs.

Most of us love our carbs whether they are sweet, salty or crunchie.  Everything in moderation has to be defined.  It can’t be permission to indulge without discretion.  Next post I’ll discuss tips to make this process easier.