Bread. Pasta. Rice. If you're trying to lose weight, you probably think these are absolutely off-limits. But the truth is, you need these types of carbohydrate-rich foods to give your body energy. And not getting enough carbs can make you feel sluggish, irritable and unable to concentrate.
But not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs, which are found in white bread and white pasta, sugar, cookies and cakes, offer little in the way of nutrition and get broken down by your body and used quickly. When you eat them, you may get a temporary burst of energy, but you'll inevitably feel tired or hungry again soon after.
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On the other hand, complex carbs (such as vegetables and whole-grain products) don't cause the same spike in blood sugar levels. Your body breaks them down much more slowly, so you feel fuller longer. What's more, high-quality carbs come packed with other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals. More carb-smart facts:
1. Eating carbs won't necessarily make you gain weight.
Research shows that most people lose the same amount of weight whether they follow a low-carb, lowfat or Mediterranean diet. That's because calories matter most: Eat too many calories (from bread, pasta or anything else) and you'll gain weight; eat less than you burn and you'll lose weight.
The catch: Starchy carbs are high in calories, so you have to keep serving sizes small-but many people find it all too easy to go overboard on pasta, potatoes, rice and even the better-for-you whole grains like whole-wheat pasta or brown rice. Not sure if you're eating too much? Your rice, pasta and potato portions at each meal should be about the size of a standard tennis ball. If you tend to eat more than that at one meal, just cut back at another. Photo: iStock
2. Pasta, bread and rice aren't the only carbs.
Vegetables, fruit and even dairy foods also contain carbs. But grains tend to pack more than these other foods (although some starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, peas and butternut squash are relatively high in carbs, too).
A good rule of thumb: Go for as many nonstarchy veggies (leafy greens, mushrooms, etc.) as you want, plus two fruits and three to six servings a day of starchy vegetables or grains (ideally whole grains) each day. A serving size equals a half-cup of cooked rice or pasta, one slice of bread, a cup of cereal or one small potato. Photo: Antonis Achilleos/Woman's Day
3. Your body burns off carbs the same way no matter when you eat them.
From a weight-loss perspective, how many calories you eat overall matters most: Having 1 cup of brown rice at dinner affects your metabolism the same way as eating 1 cup at lunch. Still, I recommend going light on carbs at dinner; since that tends to be the largest meal of the day, it's when people tend to overdo it. If you're trying to shed pounds and big piles of pasta and second helpings of potatoes are often part of your evening meal, consider cutting out starchy carbs at dinner for a little while to jump-start your weight loss. After a few weeks you can add them back, but try not to have them every night (at least not until you can get a handle on portion control). Photo: Antonis Achilleos/Woman's Day
4. Just because a bread or cracker is brown doesn't mean it's whole-grain.
Many whole-grain products, like oatmeal, are naturally light in color. And manufacturers often add molasses or caramel coloring to foods made with refined grains to make them look like whole-grain products. Pumpernickel bread, for example, isn't usually whole-grain (neither is rye bread, in case you were wondering). So don't trust your eyes! The best way to tell if a bread, cereal or cracker is whole-grain is to check the ingredients list.
Keep in mind that a package may say multigrain, high-fiber or made with whole grains, but that's no guarantee that the product is 100% whole-grain-or even good for you. Your best bets are foods that list the grain preceded by the words whole or whole-grain (for example, whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, etc.) as the very first ingredient. Keep an eye out for the yellow stamp from the Whole Grains Council (look for the version that says "100% Whole Grain").
Also, pay attention to the other ingredients listed. Is there trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil), lots of added sugar or corn syrup, or tons of processed ingredients you can't pronounce? If so, put that item back on the shelf. Photo: Thinkstock
5. It's OK to ease yourself into whole grains.
I know many people complain that whole-grain pasta is gummy or coarse; being careful not to overcook it can help a lot. Or you may prefer the taste of a 100% whole-grain brown rice- or quinoa-based pasta to the whole-wheat kind.
Still not happy? Try mixing half of your usual white pasta with half of a whole-grain variety. (You can also do this with cereal, starting with 1/2 corn flakes and 1/2 bran flakes, for example.) Or try a whole-grain pasta blend, like Ronzoni Healthy Harvest, which is made with a mix of whole-wheat flour and white flour. Consider these baby steps toward eventually choosing 100% whole-grain pasta and cereal.Learn 7 all-natural ways to fight bloating.
Another option: If you're not usually a fan of whole-wheat bread, check out "white whole-wheat." It's made with a type of wheat that has a softer texture and milder taste, so it's more like the traditional white bread that you're probably used to eating. Just keep in mind that many white whole-wheat breads aren't 100% whole-grain-companies often mix in some regular flour. But nutritionally, they're definitely a step up from plain old white bread. Photo: Thinkstock
Best Carb Picks
Here are a few of my favorites.
• Pepperidge Farm Stone Ground or 100% Whole Wheat
• Arnold Stone Ground 100% Whole Wheat bread or 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Thins
• La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious Original Low Carb, High Fiber Tortillas
• De Cecco Whole Wheat
• Heartland 100% Whole Wheat
• Hodgson Mill 100% Whole Grain pasta
• Kashi Heart to Heart
• Original or MultiGrain Cheerios
• Quaker Old Fashioned Oatmeal or McCann's Steel-Cut Irish
• Snyder's Organic Honey Whole Wheat pretzel sticks
• Tostitos Artisan Recipes Tortilla Chips
• Any light popcorn (plain air-popped is best)
Crackers & Rice Cakes
• Low-Sodium Triscuits
• Quaker or Lundberg rice cakes
• Wasa Whole Grain Crispbread
Article originally appeared on WomansDay.com.
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