Carbohydrates are a crucial part of any diet because they provide us with the energy necessary for most bodily functions, including muscle actions and brain activity. When we eat the right carbs, in the right amounts, at the right time, we get a better metabolism, excellent energy, appetite control and freedom from cravings. But when we eat too many carbs, choose the wrong ones or eat them at the incorrect time, we’re risking consequences like inflammation, premature aging, weight gain, cravings, erratic energy and foggy thinking.
No matter what all those popular diet books say, cutting carbs completely is not a good weight-loss strategy. Doing this takes away your body’s primary fuel source. It creates physical stress in the long term, which may lead to loss of muscle tissue and more abdominal fat gain. Without carbs, sex hormones plummet, leaving your libido flat and your muscles suffering even more, since testosterone is so important for strength. At the same time, our happy hormone serotonin dips. This leads to cravings, overeating, bingeing, depression and even sleep disruption. No wonder a low-carb diet is associated with irritability and fatigue! It’s an unsustainable way of eating.
So instead of cutting all carbohydrates, the best dietary approach is to choose your carbs wisely. Select options that are high in fibre and low in sugar. In doing so, you will provide your body with the energy it needs to perform optimally. Here are three of my favourite carb choices:
1. Sprouted grains
Bread has gotten a bad reputation, but it’s important to note that not all bread is made equal. Your best choice would be one made with sprouted grains, instead of regular flour, such as Ezekiel bread.
Do your best to avoid white flours and white breads 80 percent of the time. If you can’t find Ezekiel, look for 100 percent whole-grain rye bread with 18 g of carbohydrates or less per slice (Dimpflmeier and StoneMill breads are good choices that are available at most health-food and grocery stores in Canada). When topping your toast, be sure to use butter, almond butter, olive spreads, pesto or hummus instead of jams and jellies, which are high in sugar.
2. Steel cut oats
Versus their often sugar-packaged counterparts, steel cut oats are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index. They make a warm, comforting breakfast that’s high in B vitamins, calcium, protein and fibre while still being low in salt and unsaturated fat. Their high fibre content helps to balance blood sugar and insulin while reducing cholesterol and heart-disease risk.
Steel cut oats (along with oats, oatmeal and oat bran) contain a specific type of fibre known as beta-glucan, which has beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. According to numerous studies, individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), who consumed just 3 g of soluble oat fibre per day typically lowered their total cholesterol by 8 to 23 percent, which substantially decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. While different brands may vary slightly, typically each serving of steel cut oats contain 25 g of carbs, 5 g of protein, and a whopping 4 g of fibre. Don’t get stuck on oatmeal only at breakfast — it can make a fantastic afternoon snack.
Buckwheat is a great alternative to wheat — one of the most highly allergenic foods and the grain we tend to most commonly overeat. Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, making it an excellent choice for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, food allergies or for anyone undertaking a super-clean diet. It can be used as an alternative to rice or served as porridge and it’s higher in protein and fibre than other grains. Buckwheat is also lower on the glycemic index and results in less insulin release after consumption. It’s known to lower cholesterol and is a rich source of magnesium.
Rich in anti-inflammatory flavonoids (especially rutin, which tonifies veins and is useful for treating and preventing spider or varicose veins), buckwheat is a great choice for bolstering the health of our heart and blood vessels.
I welcome you to try one of these healthy carb choices, as excerpted in recipes from The Supercharged Hormone Diet:
High-protein breakfast muffin (Serves 1)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 egg whites
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 Ezekiel English muffin
2 ounces Allégro 4 percent cheese
1/2 cup apple, chopped
1. Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the egg whites. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
2. Meanwhile, toast the English muffin and top with the cheese.
3. Place the cooked egg mixture on the toasted muffin. Enjoy with berries on the side.
Calories 302 | Protein 33 g | Fat 8 g | Carbohydrates 24 g | Fibre 4 g
Sunday French toast (Serves 1)
2 egg whites
Cinnamon to taste
1/2 serving whey protein isolate
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 1/2 slices Cinnamon Raisin Ezekiel Bread
1. Mix the egg, cinnamon and whey protein isolate in a bowl.
2. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet.
3. Dip the bread in the egg mixture and fry. You may top this with 1 tablespoon of plain no-fat yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
Calories 246 | Protein 25 g | Fat 7 g | Carbohydrates 24 g | Fibre 4 g
Oatmeal and banana smoothie (Serves 1)
1/4 cup old-fashioned, slow-cooked oats (preferably McCann’s Steel Cut Oats)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup plain Liberté Goat Yogurt
1/2 banana, sliced
1/2 cup unsweetened almond (preferably Almond Breeze) or soy (preferably So Nice) milk
1/2 serving whey protein isolate (vanilla)
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée on high speed until smooth.
Calories 296 | Protein 21 g | Fat 6 g | Carbohydrates 29 g | Fibre 3 g
Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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-Article originally published April 2011.