Carbs: Friend or Foe


A carbohydrate is anything that is not a fat (oil, butter, etc) or a protein (eggs, cheese, meat, etc). Most people think of carbs as potatoes, breads and pastas (complex carbs), but vegetables and fruits are carbs too, well on a simple level. It’s a bit more complicated than that, as a lot of vegetables are high in proteins, like spinach…why do you think Popeye liked it?.. I digress…

I love carbohydrates, especially the ones people consider “bad.” This is how I got fat, by eating too many. However, do you have to remove them from your diet completely? I think most people believe they should. Look at the all the “low carb” diets and low carb products available for our consumption.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) recommends that healthy people eat 50–65% of their calories from carbohydrates. So for someone eating  2,000 calories a day, 50–65% would be 250–325 grams of carbs a day. A typical low carb diet is less than 100 grams per day, this is highly restrictive. While you can lose weight quickly, it is difficult to stick to over the long term if your like me and love your carbs. Back in my mid 20’s, I did a low carb diet for 18 months. I lost a lot of weight, but it just about “killed” me emotionally. As soon as I went back to “normal” eating the weight piled back on and I have never seen that low number on the scale since (Oh, but I will next year!!).

It was after my low carb diet experience that I swore I would never diet again! Of course, that wasn’t true, but I never did one of those very restrictive diets again. These days I eat about 55 – 60% of my calories from carbs (right in the recommended range). Depending on the calories I consume each day (Calories burned – 1000), that’s about 175 – 225 grams of carbs, and I’m losing weight. Now, not all carbs are created equal and what type of carbs you eat makes a big difference, at least for me, on what number is going to show up on the scale. I tend to choose lots of vegetables, fresh, raw and organic where possible. You can eat large amounts and feel full and satisfied. I limit things like rice and pasta to small portions, like 1/2 a cup per meal. 1) Because they are dense in calories and 2) they are commonly refined. I like to eat grains like quinoa and legumes (beans and lentils), but again small portions. For me, things like bagels and bread have to stay off the menu for now. Even eating one bagel per week was enough to shut down my weight lose to almost nothing. I once heard that when you eat bread it like telling your body to store fat for the next 2-3 hours…..enough said!

I enjoy something sweet, so I have found little 100 calorie snacks help or small amounts of chocolate, like a couple of mini’s. These help me feel like I’m not deprived and they are not a huge amount of calories that it disrupt my weight loss. You have to see what works for your body. There are certainly things that I have eaten and thought, “I’m not buying that again.” It is because it has a taste that makes me want to over eat, so be careful. I also save certain food for free days, this is important so you can stick to good eating habits long term. Eating less carbs has benefits that go way beyond just weight loss. They lower blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides. They also improve the pattern of cholesterol.

So here is my tip about eating complex carbs. Eat them for lunch or afternoon snacks. Do not eat complex carbs for breakfast (breads, pancakes, cereal) or dinner (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc). Eating carbs for breakfast just sets you up to crave them all day long and then you tend to consume more of them. When you eat them for dinner, they tend to not get burned off as you slow down at the end of the day. You want to be using your fat stores at night for energy, not your pasta dinner. It is a little difficult to get used to at first, but once you change things around, you find that you can eat the things you like and still lose weight.