Over the last ten years or so, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Truth be told, however, carbohydrates are a real necessity to a healthy diet. Carbs are our bodies’ main source of energy and are important in regulating blood sugar, storing energy, repairing muscles, and maintaining and regulating a healthy digestive tract.
So why all of this negative hoopla? Just like anything else, moderation is key. And unfortunately, many individuals over-consume carbs and for that matter, over-consume the wrong carbohydrates. Too much of the wrong kind can cause you to have too much insulin in your bloodstream which can cause your body to turn calories into fat. Further, it might mean you are not ingesting enough protein or fat in your diet for proper growth and body maintenance.
So how do you know if you are eating too many carbohydrates and what can you do?:
Step 1 – Acknowledgment: I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The more carbohydrates you eat, the more you will crave them. Yes…this means they are addictive. Answer these questions: Are you happy eating cereal, pasta, sandwiches and bread all day? Do you think it is unthinkable to drink coffee, iced tea or regular tea without sugar? Do you have Flavored Water (E.g., Vitamin Water), soft-drinks or sweet foods more than a few times a week? Does going a few meals without potatoes, pasta, rice, bread or cereal seem absurd? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, chances are you are indeed a “Carbaholic”. Acknowledging that you have an addiction to carbs is your first step to recovery.
Step 2 – Identify Triggers of Addiction: Start a food diary and track when you most crave carbohydrates. Is it mostly in the morning? Is it all day? What kind of carbohydrates do you crave the most…sugars, fruits, vegetables, breads, potatoes, rice? Start spotting trends: when do you crave carbs the most and which carbohydrates do you crave?
Step 3 – Educate Yourself on Carbohydrates: All carbs are not created equal. Some carbohydrates are healthier than others and have what we call, a lower glycemic index (GI). This means that they are digested more slowly, which allows your blood sugar to maintain stable levels (important to your health) and tend to be more filling.
- Complex Fibrous Carbohydrates (aka vegetables) have the lowest GI and can be consumed in very large amounts without worrying about addiction.
- Complex Starchy Carbohydrates are a bit more ‘complex’. Those made with whole grains are much better for you (ground whole wheat, flax, Bulgar) than those made out of bleached, processed or white flour (bagels, white bread, white rice).
- Simple carbohydrates have the highest GI and cause the most trouble. Although fresh fruit falls into this category, so does chocolate, soft-drinks, and candy. Ironically, the carbs that are the most addictive (simple carbohydrates and highly processed complex starchy carbs), are those that aren’t as good for you.
Step 4 – Take Action: Now that you have identified your weakest moments, your most craved carbohydrates and which carbohydrates are healthiest, start making some changes to improve your level of consumption of those carbs that are the most detrimental. Here is a short list of ‘To-Dos’ to break your addiction:
- Sugar: Start cutting back on sugar in your beverages. Start opting for ‘no-sugar’ or healthier options such as stevia (Truvia and Pure-Via) or agave nectar. Stevia has no calories and although agave nectar does, it is more highly concentrated meaning you need less. Also, look for Sweet Fiber, another all natural sugar substitute new to the market.
- Breads: Start cutting back on your bread intake. Limit yourself to one or two slices a day and make sure the bread you eat is 100% whole grain.
- Cereals: Start eating cereals that are high in fiber and lower in sugar. Good brands: Kashi Go Lean and Nature’s Path.
- Rice: Start eating brown rice instead of white rice. Brown rice is higher in fiber and nutrients than its white counter-part.
- Vegetables: Start eating vegetables with both lunch and dinner. Calories are not really an issue, as most vegetables are high in fiber, meaning they aren’t digested by the body. So eat up! Go Crazy! It is hard to overdo the veggies!
Remember, carbohydrates can be viewed as any other addiction: Just like an alcoholic craves more alcohol with the more he or she drinks, a ‘carbaholic’ craves carbs with the more he or she eats.
Are you a ‘Carbaholic’? What is your biggest downfall? Have you attempted to stop your addiction?
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- Your Guide to Carbohydrates
- What Makes up a Healthy Diet?
- What is the Glycemic Index and Why You Should Care
- Natural Substitutes of Sugar