Fresh fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, and root vegetables are foods whose calories come mainly from carbohydrates. We need to consume carbohydrates more than any other substance to fuel our bodies not just for exercise but for every day activities. Our primary fuel source when we work out is carbohydrates, so wouldn’t it make sense to consume more of them so we have the energy to get us through our workouts?
It goes without saying that ‘the carbs are bad’ mantra from many fad diets has left people confused about carbohydrates and the role they play in our daily diet and long-term health. People need to better understand that not all carbs are the same and they play a vital importance in weight loss. Here are some key factors to better understand how carbohydrates can not only help you lose weight and keep it off but help you live longer and healthier.
Types of Carbohydrates
They main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy. Carbs are broken down into glucose which we use as energy. In nutrition, carb or carbohydrate are one of the three macronutrients (protein and fat make up the other two). There are three main categories of carbohydrates; sugar, starch and fiber.
- Sugar – when you eat natural sugars from whole foods such as fruits, you get almost instant energy as when you digest these foods, they are released into your bloodstream quickly as they have so few sugar molecules to digest. The extra benefit of consuming these whole foods is that they are packed with vital nutrients. Add sugars such as pop, jam, also provide instant energy but they contain more calories, lack little or no vital nutrients and contribute to weight gain.
- Starch – starchy foods are digested differently. Some are digested slowly providing you with long-term energy which in turn keeps you full while other starchy foods digest quickly which can spike your blood sugar level. Starchy foods consist of corn, beans, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, and grains. These foods are not only packed with essential vitamins and minerals, but they are a key energy source and many contain fiber. Try to avoid refined grains such as white pasta and bread (even multigrain bread) as once they go through the refinement process, they are stripped of all their beneficial fiber.
- Fiber – there are two types of fiber; soluble and insoluble. Fiber doesn’t provide energy directly but many carbohydrates contain fiber which contain both types of fiber which assist our bodies in many ways. Ways such as soluble fiber helping your blood sugar level by slowing down the absorption of carbs and it interferes with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol. This helps lower your blood cholesterol level. Insoluble fiber keeps digestive waste moving through your intestines which can help prevent constipation. High fiber starchy carbohydrates release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly whereas added sugars, refined sugars, and sports drinks release sugar quickly.
What is Caloric Density?
Caloric density is how much energy (calories) is provided per unit measure of food. As shown in the table below, foods that contain few calories but are nutrient dense are your whole and plant-based foods. Foods such as refined sugars and high fatty foods provide very little nutrients and are high in calories. So, if you want to manage your weight and keep it off, consume a larger portion of low-calorie dense foods and reduce or omit altogether high-calorie dense foods. Foods that are low in calorie density, tend to be higher in satiety as many of the foods are high in fiber (starch vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes). A person can fill up on fewer calories without having to go hungry, count calories, or measure out portions of food. When you consume a larger portion of low calorie density foods, in return you consume a diet that is high in nutrient density.
Caloric Ratios of Common Foods
|Food||Calories per Pound||Calories per Liter||Fiber Grams per Pound|
|Whole grains (rice)||600||1,000||3|
|Starchy vegetables (potatoes)||600||1,000||3|
(source: Eat to Live – Joel Fuhrman, M.D.)
Consuming Carbs for Weight Loss
Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram whereas fat contains nine calories per gram. What does this mean? By replacing fatty, sugary foods with high-fiber carbohydrates, you are more likely to reduce the number of calories in your diet. If you look at people who are thin, they consume the majority of their calories from carbohydrates. Many carbs have powerful appetite suppressants because they are digested more slowly and bring on a sensation of fullness not just to your belly but your brain.
Eating more low calorie density foods is more effective for weight management than the approach of calories in vs. calories out. In order to stay full, you need to incorporate more foods that help you stay full but at the same time have small amounts of calories. Low calorie density foods keep you satisfied with a felling of fullness whereas high calorie foods do not. Green vegetables are so low in calories and high in nutrients that the more you eat of the them, the more weight you will lose. Mix these greens with starchy and fibrous carbs and you’re well on your way to attaining the weight you always wanted and keeping it off.
So, let’s take a look at the highest nutrient-dense foods (ranked highest to lowest):
- Raw leafy green vegetables (darker greens have more nutrients)
- Green vegetables (raw, steamed, or frozen)
- Non-green, non-starchy vegetables (beets, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, etc.)
- Fresh fruits
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash corn, carrots)
- Whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc.)
- Raw nuts & seeds
- Fat-free dairy
- Wild meats
- Red meat
- Full-fat dairy
- Refined grains (white bread, white flour)
- Refined oils
- Refined sweets
Rules to Live By For Optimal Weight Loss:
- Don’t drink your calories. Eat or chew your calories. Liquids don’t have a lot of satiety so they won’t fill you up as much as foods in their whole state.
- Omit oil. Oil is basically fat with no nutrients. Vegetables are lowest in calorie density while oils are the highest. If you want to eat coconut then eat it in it’s whole form. If you want olives, eat them in their whole form.
- Eat for nutrients, not just taste. When you place a food in your mouth, ask yourself ‘how is this going to feed my body nutritionally?
Eat Clean & Live Green!
Your Compassionate Coach,