You can lose weight and live healthfully without joining a gym, taking pills, or paying for a meal plan. Rather than costing money, living a healthier lifestyle can actually save money. There are many myths about foods. Here we tackle one of the biggest myths: that carbs are the enemy.
Welcome to another Wellness Wednesday. In my free wellness class at work, most of what I have been learning is common sense – such as eat food. However, it is important to have these points reinforced, as we have become accustomed to eating processed foods, most of which contain added sugars. Here I review some of what I’ve been learning and how I’ve been implementing it in my own life.
The Stupid Diet
Diet trends are so stupid. First we said fat was the problem. So we made everything fat-free. To make those processed, fat-free items taste half way decent, we added sugar. But obesity rates (as well as rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) increased.
Then we thought sugar was the problem. So we made everything sugar-free. To make those processed items edible, artificial and other sweeteners were added. Yet obesity rates continued to increase.
Now carbohydrates are thought to be the problem. Do we see a trend here?
I’m not a physician or dietician. I am a Health Psychologist, but it doesn’t take a degree in behavioral medicine to know that our bodies need carbohydrates to function.
Carbs are not the reason for our extra pounds or digestive problems (except for those with certain medical conditions). But, the type of carbs we choose may be unhealthy. Let’s get back to eating whole, minimally processed food!
According to the US Dietary Guidelines, 45-65% of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 20-35% calories from fat, and 10-35% from protein.
If you are on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, then you should be consuming 225-325 grams of carbs daily (unless suggested otherwise by your physician or dietician).
Sources of Carbs
Although our bodies do need carbs to function, that doesn’t mean we should be stocking up on breads, cereals, pastas, or rice.
Carbs are naturally found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products.
The problem is that processed foods (e.g., white bread, white rice, enriched pasta) have the bran and germ of the grain (which contains most of the fiber and vitamins) stripped away. What is left is the starchy endosperm.
Instead of refined grains, we need to choose whole grains.
When choosing carbs, look for the word “whole” and avoid the word “enriched.” Enriched products likely have been processed thereby removing the vitamins and minerals, which were added back in an attempt to restore the nutrients. But it’s not the same.
Beware: Many foods say “Whole Grain” on the package, but when you read the ingredients one of the first things listed is “enriched wheat flour.” Further down the list is “whole grain wheat flour.” Companies add a bit of whole grain so that they can market the product as healthy, when enriched flour is still the primary ingredient.
Examples of whole grains include:
- Corn (including popcorn)
- Oats (including oatmeal)
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
Most of the processed foods we buy (including bread) has added sugar in one form or another. Simple sugars can be addictive! They make us crave more simple sugars.
When reading Nutrition Facts on foods, remember that Sugars include naturally occurring sugars (such as those in whole fruit). But it’s important that we keep an eye out for added sugars.
Sugar can come in different forms (see 56 Most Common Names for Sugar), including:
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Sucrose (aka, sugar)
- Agave nectar (which contains fructose and glucose)
- Maple syrup
How Much Added Sugar Should We Have?
You may notice that Nutrition Facts in the US do not contain a recommended Daily Value for sugar. So how much added sugar should we be consuming?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends <10% of total calories come from added sugar.
- Children under age 2 consume no added sugar
- Children aged 2-18 years consume ≤6 teaspoons of added sugar a day
- and no more than one 8-oz sugar sweetened beverage per week
- Women consume ≤6 teaspoons of added sugar a day
- that’s approximately 25 grams of sugar, which is about 100 calories
- Men consume ≤ 9 teaspoons of sugar a day
- that’s about 37 grams of sugar, which is roughly 150 calories
- that’s about 37 grams of sugar, which is roughly 150 calories
Sugary drinks, cereals, yeast bread, cakes, candy, and cookies are common culprits for added sugars. For a point of reference: 1 can of soda contains 39 grams of sugar and 150 calories!
No recommendations are made regarding artificial sweeteners, as there’s not enough research on them. Common sense would say drink water and eat food.
Challenge for the Week
My challenge for the week was to avoid added sugars and make smarter choices when it comes to carbs.
I’ve been doing well at reading food labels and eating minimally processed foods containing little to no processed sugars.
Honestly, my family (self included) does not care for whole wheat bread, brown or wild rice, or whole grain pasta. But, we have been finding other ways to make healthier choices.
|Chips||Whole grain air popped popcorn|
|Fruit yogurt||Plain yogurt adding whole fruits|
|Flour tortillas||Whole wheat tortillas*|
*Quinoa and whole wheat tortillas are more expensive than the “bad carb” alternative. However, I also enjoyed their taste more and the nutritional benefits made the additional cost well worth it. Plus, avoiding processed foods has lowered my grocery bill overall.
Although we do still eat enriched pasta, we have been serving much smaller portion sizes and filling half the plate with greens (e.g., Brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, or a side salad). We have also been making our own marinara sauce, which contains less added sugar than jarred sauce.
I’m eight weeks into my Wellness Class and lost another 2 pounds this week. That’s a total of 16 pounds in two months! I’ve also been saving money on food.
In addition to eating healthier, I have also been exercising regularly. My routine includes walking with a friend at work during lunch, rocking the Couch to 5K training program at home, using resistance bands for increasing strength, and increasing my overall daily activity.
My mood, sleep, and self-confidence have all improved! I even wore a bikini to the beach this weekend – and it felt amazing!
Fats, sugars, and carbs are not the enemy. Our bodies require them to function. However, much of the “food” on store shelves are processed products that have had the vitamins and fiber stripped away and added fats and sugars for taste. Rather than focusing on eliminating a source of energy, let’s get back to eating whole, minimally processed foods.
What are some ways you can reduce added sugars and increase the amount of “good” carbs?