“Cookies, Candy Canes, and Carbs, Oh My!”

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December 18, 2012 by mybattlebuddyfitness

“Cookies, Candy Canes, and Carbs, Oh My!”
A Basic Guide to All Things Carbohydrate-Related

Let me begin this post by first saying that I am NOT a doctor. I’m NOT a nutritionist. The knowledge and advice that I am dispensing here is NOT the gospel truth. This information is simply meant to serve as a guide for you. I know that there is a ton of information out there about carbs, and most of it is very confusing. It’s so hard to know what’s right. As a trainer, some of the most frequent questions I get are about carbs: Are they all bad? What kinds of carbs should I eat? Should women avoid them altogether? Do I have to give them up for the rest of my life? What time of day should I eat my carbs? These are just a few of the questions that my clients would fire at me, and I am guessing that you too have probably asked one or more of these questions at some point.

Though I am not a doctor, I do happen to know a little bit about nutrition and how it affects your weight, your workouts, and the way you feel. In fact, there is a ton of information that I wanted to share with you, so I will split this material into two separate posts. Today’s post focuses on which carbs you should consume, and which you should avoid. Wednesday’s post will focus on the WHY behind all of this. You ready for your lesson? Let me fill you in on what I know…

“Are ALL carbs bad?”
No! All carbs are definitely NOT bad. That shiny apple you ate yesterday, that baked butternut squash you had with dinner last night, that tasty banana that you had this morning…CARBS. Carbs are in everything! I would never recommend completely eliminating one food group from your diet. It’s not necessarily helpful to your fitness goals and it’s totally unsustainable (not to mention super-lame…who among us wants to say that they will never again enjoy a piece of cake or fresh slice of pie?). This being said, there are a number of carbs that you should avoid except on special occasions.

Here is a list of common “bad”/simple carbohydrates:

(1) Sugar! White sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, cakes, candy, and cookies. I don’t think I need to insult your intelligence by enumerating the ways in which sugar is bad for you—we all know that it does nothing for our figure, energy levels, or well-being. Furthermore, those nasty sugar substitutes aren’t very good for you either. The only sugar substitute that you should settle for is one that is made with stevia (Truvia, Stevia in the Raw are good choices). Sweet-n-Low, Equal, and Splenda have no place in your body. They are made with weird chemicals like aspartame and could have harmful effects on your body in the long-term. In addition, these sugar substitutes typically save you calories while increasing your cravings for sugar. Your body is tricked into thinking that it has consumed sugar, so it wants more.

Other acceptable substitutes for sugar are raw agave syrup, which is typically used in baking; raw turbinado sugar, which is the less-processed sibling to regular sugar; pure unsulfured molasses, also typically used in baking; RAW honey—not the stuff in the cute little bear, but the stuff that usually in a jar and looks cloudy and yellow. The uses for raw honey are endless—baking, cooking, you can even put a small dollop of honey in your coffee or tea in the morning instead of sugar.

(2) Processed, packaged protein/fiber/granola/cereal bars. These little demons are marketed as being full of protein or fiber and low in carbs, but the truth is, that these bars should have no place in your diet either. If you don’t believe me, flip one of those bars over and read the label. How many grams of sugar are in that thing? Grams of carbs? Now, how many grams of protein does it have? Maybe 10, if you’re lucky. I guarantee that the grams of sugar and carbs outnumber the grams of protein and fiber. Read the list of ingredients. Can you pronounce all or ANY of those words? Yep, that’s what I thought. Now promptly toss that thing in the trash and cook up two scrambled eggs for yourself with a couple of tablespoons of salsa—with 14-16 grams of protein, it will be so much more satisfying. The salsa may have a gram or two of sugar per serving (be careful that you don’t choose a pineapple or mango, or southwestern-style with corn—these varieties typically have more sugar in them), but you’re still doing yourself a huge favor by choosing this over that thing from the package.

I realize that there are times when one of these bars might be your best option. Just today, I was in the St. Louis airport. Hungry. No food from home. Standing in the little convenience shop next to my gate. I circled the food options—Chex Mix (delicious yes, but full of sodium, empty carbs, no protein or fiber…bad choice), Skittles (ummm…no), Pop Chips (these are made from rice and baked, not fried—getting better, but still not my first choice), and gummi bears. None of these typical airport treats was going to satisfy my tummy. And then I spotted something that would work: a package of dried, unsweetened, unsulphured mangoes, and a vanilla PowerBar brand protein bar. I would get my fruit fix (and some good carbs) from the mangoes, and my hunger would be satisfied by the protein in the PowerBar. With 22 grams of protein and 19 grams of sugar, it was my best option.

If you find yourself in this situation, please, please read the label! Other acceptable bar options are Larabars and Kind Bars—both are minimally processed and made from ingredients actually found in nature. These will help stave off the hunger until you can get something of substance—they are definitely not a long-term solution.

(3) White Russet/baker’s potatoes/white starches—sure, they have some nutritional value, and they’re certainly better than a Snickers bar and a kick in the pants. BUT, they’re not that awesome for you. Other varieties of potatoes are much better for you. On the top of the list are yams or sweet potatoes. I know that some people despise these potatoes, and admittedly, I didn’t like them very much either at first. I tell you though, they have grown on me so much that I actually find myself craving them. There are so many wonderful ways that you can prepare them, I encourage you to try them until you like them. They are loaded with nutrition—give them another chance if you gave up on them. Other great varieties of potatoes to try are red potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes, and fingerlings.

(4) Refined grains, enriched pasta, white bread, and white rice—all of these grains are so over-processed that our body doesn’t have to do a thing to digest these foods. While white flour and white rice are technically complex carbs, they have been stripped of all their fiber during processing. Refined grains are typically high in sugar and calories and very low in nutrients. They will likely make you feel bloated and weighed down. Save the pasta and refined grains for special occasions—enough said.

Here is a list of the “good”/complex carbohydrates that you should focus on:

(1) Fresh fruit—fruit is nature’s dessert. If you find yourself having a sugar craving, reach for a piece of fruit. Each variety of fruit is beneficial to you in different ways—but all of them are fibrous and loaded with powerful nutrients that will keep your body running smoothly. If you are just getting started in your weight loss journey, don’t necessarily worry about the kinds of fruit you are consuming right now. In the beginning, it is important that you focus on changing your habits. You can begin to fine-tune your diet more closely as you approach your goal weight. If you are having trouble losing those last few pounds, then focus on fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and apricots. These fruits are lower on the glycemic index, meaning that they won’t cause a rapid rise in your blood sugar levels.

(2) Vegetables! The golden rule of veggies is that you can pretty much fill up on these buggers without feeling guilty. Eat as much green, leafy vegetables as you can get your grubby mitts. Eating your greens will ensure that your digestion system continues to run smoothly. In addition, your skin will look clearer, your eyes will look brighter, and you will have more energy and be less likely to get sick. The only vegetables that you should worry about eating in moderation are the starchy ones—potatoes of all kinds, squash, corn, etc. I know I forgot some on this list. If you are questioning whether or not a certain veggie is considered “starchy,” Google it. You’ll have your answer in 30 seconds. Again, unless you are training for a fitness competition or need your body fat to be at a ridiculously low level, you don’t need to worry about eating too many fresh veggies.

(3) Beans and lentils—beans and lentils are a lifesaver. Sometimes the thought of more chicken and salad is enough to make me gag…and then I remember, BEANS! Delicious beans of all kinds—black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans—I love them all. Red lentils, green lentils, yellow lentils, black lentils—they’re all delicious! Beans and lentils contain a ton of fiber and their possibilities are endless.

(4)Nuts and seeds—nuts and seeds are necessary in careful moderation. These are not the kind of thing that you want to “eyeball.” Do you know what 22 almonds looks like? I thought I did. And then I actually counted. I had been eating almost double a serving size! Oops. It is super important that you get your healthy fats every day. Not only do they contain important nutrients, but they are important for proper brain functioning and they will make you feel fuller. Focus on raw, unsalted, unroasted nuts—like almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds.

(5) Whole grains (steel-cut oats, rye, millet, quinoa, whole wheat and brown rice)—I have to admit, I have almost cut grains out of my diet completely. I don’t eat them on a daily basis, and really only consume them on special occasions. I’ve never felt better. I am one of those people that LOVES bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, and quinoa. I start eating the stuff and I can’t stop. I just don’t have the willpower. When I was a little kid, I used to eat white rice with margarine and cinnamon and sugar on it ALL THE TIME. As I got older, I noticed that every time I ate these grains, I felt sort of tired and heavy afterward. I don’t find that they enhance my ability to workout harder or longer, so I’ve pretty much said good-bye to all of them. I am not saying that you have to do this. I am suggesting that you consume only a serving size of whole grains at one time. In addition, I recommend that you consume your whole grains before 2pm in the afternoon. This will ensure that your body has plenty of time to burn through the energy that these grains provide.

Remember, just because something is labeled “whole grain” doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. Be sure to read the labels!

Keep these simple tips in mind when contemplating your carbs:
(1) Skip refined and processed foods altogether.
(2) Read the label to see if there is added sugar. Be wary of the “-oses” like high fructose corn syrup and sucralose.
(3) Fill up on fruits and vegetables first. Choose beans and legumes next, and supplement the rest with whole grains.
(4) Avoid the lure of low-fat foods, which always contain a sizable amount of calories from sugar.
(5) Avoid the lure of low-carb foods, which sometimes have more calories from fat.
(6) Don’t worry about counting the exact number of carbs. Don’t make it difficult for yourself. Keep it simple. If you focus on consuming the right kind of carbs, you don’t need to follow any kind of tricky formula.

As always, let me know your thoughts. Hope this helps…

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