The Skinny on Carbs

“Man cannot live on protein alone.”

Okay, so I am taking some creative liberties here.  But it’s true.  Contrary to some of the fad diets that have emerged in recent years, our bodies need more than chicken and eggs.  That’s mostly because we have requirements for our bodies beyond looking good.  Protein does promote muscle growth and development (which is the key to a fat-burning metabolism, – and that’s cool…) BUT carbs are what fuel us to do everything else.  And personally, I value a good night’s sleep, a thick head of hair, a healthy immune system, plenty of energy, and balanced hormones, to name a few.  That’s where the carbs come in.  But carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately.  “Low Carb” this and “No Carb” that…Let’s get the skinny on what is really going on.

Carbohydrates are our fuel.  Too much fuel can make us fat, but here is where we need to remember those old lectures from health class about complex and refined carbohydrates, You know what these are.  Refined carbs are the processed, packaged, foods – like crackers, chips, and candy.  Complex carbs are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Isn’t it interesting to note that in this society that preaches against being overweight, we have a HUGE double standard?  All of the “good food” that we celebrate with, reward with, and indulge with, are refined carbohydrates.  And we do a lot of celebrating, rewarding, and indulging.  Like, almost every day.

So let’s focus on the good stuff, the complex carbohydrates.   Remember the diagram on how to fix your plate? One-fourth of that plate gets to be filled with carbohydrates.   The following are some tips on how to choose those carbs that will compliment your proteins and work with your muscles to burn fat.

The Happy Gal Food Diagram

Choose Whole Grains

This means brown bread over white, brown rice over white, and brown tortillas over white ones.  (Basically, the only whites in your life should be coming from eggs.)  Get the picture?  And yes, this even means saying goodbye to white sugar (I’m sorry!).

Watch your Serving Size

Hold your hand out in front of you, and make a cup as if someone is pouring something into your hand.  Viola!  This is your own signature serving size when you are dishing up rice, pasta, or other grains.

Question Protocol

Okay, so you are making the shift.  You order your hamburger with a whole grain bun.  That’s the best you can do, right?  Think again.  Just because tradition has us using both sides of the bun doesn’t mean that we can’t think outside of the box (or fast food wrapper.)  Yes, a whole grain bun is an improvement over a white one.  But what if you ditched the top half of the bun?  Same thing with sandwiches?  Look for ways that you can not only shift from white to wheat, but also eliminate a portion of the traditional serving size.  As always, being full and satisfied is important so fill up on more salad, fruits, and veggies if needed.

Know What to Avoid

It is easy to fill your meals and snacks with crackers, rolls, pasta, and other refined carbohydrates.  Keep in mind that even with the shift to whole grains, these foods are still processed.  If it doesn’t grow naturally, ask yourself is there is a healthier substitute.  For example, I used to snack on deli turkey and a thin slice of cheese on whole grain crackers.  One day I realized that I could substitute the crackers with a cucumber slice.  It was good, just in a different kind of way. I found that over time I actually preferred the cucumber to the cracker.

For Faster Results

If you desire faster results in your body, I have a little secret.  If you look at the definition of a carbohydrate, fruits and vegetables technically fall into the carb category.  Are you picking up what I’m dropping?  This means that you can actually substitute your grains and starchy carbs with vegetables (and sometimes fruits) and see a marked difference in your body.  It is definitely worth the experiment.  I never thought I would prefer a hamburger wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, or lasagna baked with zucchini strips instead of noodles…but I do.  (See my upcoming post on “What’s for Dinner” for more ideas on substituting for grains and starch.)  Trying out these ideas will give you more flexibility in indulging when there is something you really want to have (for me it is homemade rolls) by exposing what you are really not very attached to (for example, I have learned that I can live without mashed potatoes.)

So move over, South Beach!  The truth is out.  The Skinny on Carbs is that Carbs (the right ones) help us get skinny.  More importantly, they help to create a healthier body, a sharper mind, and a Better YOU.

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