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
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.
No 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.