Nutritionists estimate that you need 120g of carbs each day to maintain good health. We need carbs to produce glucose, and we all need glucose for energy.
When you hear someone say they’re “cutting out carbs”, they actually mean that they’re cutting out simple carbs, not complex carbs. There’s a big difference between the two!
Let’s dive into the difference, and explore how you can minimize the bad carbs so you can look, feel, and be your best.
The Problem with Carbs
Your body converts carbohydrates to glucose. The glucose is first used as energy for your muscles and tissues. Some will go to your liver as an energy reserve. The rest will become fat, potentially leading to diabetes and obesity.
Complex carbs are found in fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. In moderation, these foods are essential for digestion, immunity, and energy.
Simple carbs don’t have any nutrients. You can find simple carbs in sugary products as well as white bread and pasta. Your body breaks down simple carbs without much effort and quickly puts them into your bloodstream. This causes your blood sugar to spike, giving you a sugar high and later a sugar crash.
To optimize your health, you want to eat a small amount of good carbs—complex carbs—in combination with protein and fat.
Eat the Proper Amount of Complex Carbs
To start, pick the right number of complex carbs for your dietary goals.
For most people the proper amount of complex carbs is about 225-325g per day. However, if you’re aiming to lose weight, you’ll do better with 120-150g per day.
Next, check the labels on the foods you buy. The labels will show the quantities of carbohydrates in grams so that it’s easy to add up the carbs you eat.
Most fruits have 15-25g of carbs while most vegetables have 5-10g of carbs per serving. It’s easy to look up info on your diet by Googling “carbohydrate grams in a [fruit]” or “carbohydrate grams per serving of _____”.
If you’re like most people, you won’t have trouble getting up to 150g of complex carbohydrates in a day. To keep from going over, measure your food servings and be disciplined about the quantities you eat.
If you don’t feel full after your target quantity of carbs, try eating more legumes (beans, lentils, and peas) or whole fruit and vegetables. Eating whole foods rather than simply drinking juices gives you more fiber and water, making you feel fuller.
If you’re currently eating way more carbs than you intend, you can start by reducing your consumption by 25% each week until you reach your desired amount. This will help you avoid potential sugar cravings or headaches associated with a rapid diet change.
Cut Out Simple Carbs
Cutting out simple carbs (sugary products and white bread) is easier said than done for a simple reason. Carbs don’t fill you, yet they taste great. This combination makes it very easy to overeat your carbs.
Here are 10 ways you can minimize your intake of simple carbs.
1. Use less syrup in lattes and frozen drinks.
If you enjoy flavored lattes, ask your barista to use half the amount of syrup. By default, Starbucks easily doubles the proportion of sugar you should consume in a drink. After a couple weeks of using reduced sweetness, you’ll easily get use to it. In fact, before long, you’ll even prefer it.
2. Swap flavored water in place of soda.
3. Look for cereal with “whole grains.”
Find cereals that have less sugar and more protein, especially those that specify “whole grain” like Cheerios or Kashi.
4. Get Greek yogurt.
5. Eat 100% whole wheat bread.
Replace white or multigrain bread and pasta with 100% whole wheat. The keyword to look for is “whole.” (White bread lacks the nutritious shell of the wheat, while the marketing term “multigrain” doesn’t necessarily mean that the grains are unprocessed and whole.)
6. Eat quinoa and farro.
7. Get into nuts… and cold cuts, olives and avocados. (Yum!)
Keep low-cab snacks like nuts and cheese around for when you get hungry in between meals. Almonds, peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts are excellent options, along with brie, mozzarella, cheddar, ricotta, or cottage cheese. You can also enjoy cold cuts, olives and avocados!
8. Cut pastries in half.
Many Europeans are healthier than Americans in part because they control portion sizes. If you enjoy donuts and pastries, try cutting them in half. Put the reduced sized pastry on a small plate and eat it with a dessert fork. It will still give you the flavor you enjoy, but you’ll avoid the excess that hurts your health.
9. Cook some eggs for breakfast.
Start your day with an egg breakfast. An egg contains less than 1 gram of carbs. If you have time to cook, you can also try some delicious dinner recipes.
10. At restaurants replace bread and fries with vegetables.
When you go out to a restaurant, ask if you can substitute vegetables in place of bread or fries, or olive oil and vinegar in place of a sugary dressing.
You’ll Love a Low Carb Diet, Really!
Remember that a low-carb diet just means a diet low in simple carbs, not the complex “good” carbs.
If you’ve ever worried about feeling deprived on a low-carb diet, please don’t let this belief get in the way of trying one. (You can always go back if you don’t like it.)
One of the best perks of a low-carb diet is that you almost won’t need to track calories. You’ll naturally get full faster, and if you want more food, the options open to you are all nutritious and healthy whether you reach for cheese, cold cuts, avocados, yogurt or nuts.
Your body was designed for unprocessed foods, and that’s exactly the kind of foods you’ll get to eat. This is a key reasons why a low-carb diet helps you to lose weight, increase muscle definition, live longer, and just feel healthier.
As you map out your next grocery list, try going low-carb this week and see how you feel!