With all the buzz around keto, you’ve either tried or considered a low-carb diet recently. I know I have. While I haven’t hopped on the keto train, I did try a restrictive low-carb diet a couple years ago. Boy was it difficult staying under the 7o grams of carbohydrates recommended by my trainer at the time. While I did lose weight, I was also extremely constipated and decided to give it up after only a couple months. This lead me to learn how to incorporate more carbs into my diet and still lose weight. Overwhelmingly, I found the best way to lose weight while eating carbs is to eat carbohydrates your body absorbs more slowly.
Eating carbohydrates with a low glycemic index such as whole grains and beans keeps you full longer. Your body has to work harder to break these foods down which releases sugar more slowly into your bloodstream. The slower rate of digestion also speeds up your metabolism and helps you lose weight faster.
During my research, I also stumbled across a book called The Nordic Way, by Arne Astrup, Jennie Brand-Miller, and Christian Bitz. It’s mostly a cookbook, but the recipes are based on a Norwegian study that found participants who ate a ratio of 2 grams of carbs per 1 gram of protein each meal felt full longer, lost weight & kept it off, and reduced their risk of disease.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?
In order for your body to enter ketosis, it is generally recommend that you eat around 30 – 50 grams of net carbs per day. While I’ve never reduced my carb intake that much, reducing it to 70 grams had me wondering if extreme low-carb diets are healthy? My general moto with food is to listen to my body. My body seemed to be telling me – I needs carbs, at least more of them. Here’s why.
According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, sugars, starches and fiber are the main types of carbohydrates. We need these carbs in our diet to control weight, protect against disease and provide much needed fuel for our bodies in the form of energy. I found it really interesting that they recommend 45-65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. This equates to between 168 – 225 grams if you’re consuming between 1500 – 2000 calories a day. That’s a far cry from 70 grams.
If you’re like me, you hear these numbers and start doing the I can eat carbs “happy dance”. However, before we go too nuts, it’s important to make sure that you’re eating the right kind of carbs. Not all carbs are equal. It’s well known that food in its original form is better than a processed version, but what else should you keep in mind?
When deciding on the best carbs to include in your diet the most important thing to consider is this:
- sugar = simple carbs (not so good)
- starches and fiber = complex carbs (yes, more please!)
Most carbohydrates in your diet should come from complex carbs. As stated earlier, your body has to work longer and harder to break them down and digest. They’re also way more nutritious. Additionally, and I’m speaking from personal experience here, everything will just move more freely if you know what I mean – constipation can be a thing of the past.
When it comes to complex carbs, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are all excellent sources. However, simple carbs are not completely out. You just need to make sure the majority of sugar in your diet comes from whole fruits rich in fiber and vitamins.
Carbohydrate Foods to Avoid for Weight Loss
Now that we’ve covered the basics, I hope you have a better appreciation of carbohydrates and their essential role in our health and wellbeing. Before we get into all the yummy carbs you should include in your diet, let’s take a closer look at the carbs you should limit, avoid completely or only eat in moderation.
1.) Any carbs that start with the word “white”.
- white flour
- white bread
- white rice
- white potatoes
- white crackers
2.) Baked goods and pantry items made from processed grains.
- breakfast cereals
- quick cooking oats and other refined porridges
- cookies, cakes, pastries, muffins, etc.
- whole wheat white bread
3.) Fruits that have been processed.
- dried fruits
- fruit juice
- fruit leather and jerkies
4.) Everything on the candy and snack isle.
- potato chips
- corn chips
- roasted sweetened nuts
- granola bars
- sweetened protein bars
5.) Sugars, sweeteners and anything with added sugar.
- refined sugar, including brown sugar
- agave nectar
- maple syrup
- sweetened condiments, sauces & salad dressings
- sweetened beverages
- sweetened nut butters
- cocktail mixers
List of Good Carbs for Weight Loss
Now for the good stuff. The following is a list full of nutritious and incredibly healthy complex carbs that nourish your body and keep you feel full longer. It should be easy to get the recommend 45-65% calories from carbs when including these foods in your meals throughout the day. This list is not comprehensive, but will get you started.
1.) Whole grains and products made from whole grains and sprouted whole grains.
- brown rice
- sprouted grain – breads, pitas, tortillas, etc
- ancient grains – kamut, amaranth, farro, etc.
- whole oats
- whole rye and whole rye bread
- whole grain breads you can actually see the grains in
- wheat germ
- low carb pasta
- whole grain pasta
- stone ground whole wheat flour
2.) Whole fruits.
- berries – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.
- tree fruits – apples, pears, peaches, cherries, etc.
- tropical fruits – pineapple, mango, papaya, bananas, etc.
- citrus fruits – oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, etc.
- melons, all varieties
3.) All nuts, seeds and legumes.
- nuts – almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts, etc.
- seeds – sesame, chia, sunflower, flax, etc.
- unsweetened nut & seed butters – peanut, almond, tahini, etc.
- all beans – soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, adzuki, fava, etc.
4.) Vegetables – all of them, except white potatoes.
- dark leafy greens – spinach, kale, collards, etc.
- brussel sprouts
- lettuce – all kinds
- root vegetables – all kinds
- sweet potatoes
- squash – summer and winter varieties
- green beans
- mushrooms – all varieties
- peppers – all kinds
5.) Unrefined and unsweetened condiments, snacks and dairy.
- real pickles, unsweetened
- Worcestershire sauce
- unsweetened yogurt
- unsweetened nut milks
- whole milk and cream
The Plate Method
The last thing I’ll leave you with is a brief overview of the Plate Method. It was developed by the American Diabetes Association, and is a great tool for quickly visualizing whether a meal is carb balanced. Whether you’re dining out, don’t have time, or just don’t want to calculate carbs for a meal, the Plate Method can help keep you on track.
It simply states that you should fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a 4th of your plate with lean protein and the remaining 4th with whole grains and/or starchy vegetables. A meal using this method may look something like this.
Losing weight is hard and there is so much conflicting and confusing information out there. It can be difficult knowing what to eat. We are also human and aren’t always going to make the best choices 100% of the time. In my own experience, I’ve been able to successfully lose over 25 pounds and keep it off by following the 2:1 carb to protein ratio and eating from the good carbs list above most of the time. I’ve also left some wiggle room in my diet to enjoy some of the bad carbs as well – in moderation of course which I discuss in this article.
Have you been able to enjoy healthy carbs and lose weight? Or have you had success on a keto or other low-carb diet? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.