The Low-Carb Way to Weight Loss
Source: Healthy Woman 2004
Author: Prevention Magazine
What’s So Bad about Carbs?
We’re not about to tell you that carbohydrates are evil. The fact is, you can’t live without them. Carbohydrates are one of three basic macronutrients needed to sustain life (the other two are protein and fat). But eating too many carbohydrates, especially refined carbs – can cause weight gain and can adversely affect your health.
Carbohydrates encompass a broad range of sugars, starches, and fibers. There are two general classes of carbs: refined and unrefined. Refined carbs are essentially refined sugars and refined flours. Generally speaking, refined carbs are less healthy. Numerous studies demonstrate the relationship of these less healthy carbohydrates to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some kinds of cancer.
Unrefined carbohydrates are the kind found in whole grains, beans, fruits, and many vegetables. Unrefined carbs are usually more healthy because they include two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Fiber is extremely important for weight management because it makes you feel full (so you don’t overeat), and it helps slow down your body’s absorption of carbohydrate foods. Fiber also helps the body stabilize blood sugar levels and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
All carbohydrates are eventually converted by your body into glucose (blood sugar). One hundred percent of the carbohydrate you eat turns into glucose, but only 58% of the protein and about 10% of the fat you eat are converted to glucose.
Why Carbs Cause Weight Gain
So what’s the real problem with eating lots of carbohydrates? If you eat excessive amounts of quickly absorbed carbs, you upset your body’s precise balance of blood sugar. Simply put, eating too many carbohydrate grams may cause a situation where more glucose becomes available to the cells than the body needs. You gain weight because the excess glucose gets turned into fat. Consequently, blood sugar goes down because the glucose is going into the body’s cells as fat. And when your blood sugar begins to drop, you feel hungry.
If, like many Americans, you eat a lot of refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks and candy bars–or even pretzels and crackers – you are feeding a vicious circle in your body that never really satisfies your hunger because you get only short-term relief.
Plus, most refined carb foods are low in fiber. As mentioned earlier, eating fiber-rich foods gives you a sense of fullness. On the other hand, eating low-fiber, simple carbohydrate foods leaves you feeling constantly hungry. This may help explain why sugar seems to have an addictive quality and how carbohydrate-rich meals may lead to excess weight.
Lose Weight with “Good” Carbs
By eating fewer quickly absorbed carbohydrates, keeping moderate amounts of lean proteins and healthy fats in your diet, and getting a reasonable amount of physical activity, you set the stage for safe and effective weight loss.
Put the emphasis on unrefined carbohydrate foods, and you will get more fiber, vitamins, and minerals to help slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream. Slow, gradual absorption will prevent your body from producing excess glucose, so you ll experience less hunger and will be less likely to get sudden urges for sweets or extra portions. All of this adds up to an easier and healthier way to shed pounds.
Get Ready to Go Low-Carb – Simple Steps to Low-Carb Eating
Now that you know why low-carb works, we’ll show you how to put it into action. Read on to see how you can make great tasting food work for you instead of against you.
STEP 1: EAT MORE WHOLE GRAINS
Today’s supermarkets are chock-full of whole grain breads, cereals, and pastry flour, whole wheat tortillas, pitas, and pasta, and brown rice. When buying bread, cereal, pasta, and other grain-based foods, look for the words “whole grain” on the label.
Look for low-GI grains. Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) can help you lose weight. They won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as foods with a high GI and may keep you satisfied longer. To step up your weight loss, put the emphasis on whole grains with a low GI. For instance, a slice of whole grain pumpernickel (1 ounce) has a lower GI than most other breads.
Reduce your total intake of starches. Switching from refined grain foods such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice to low-GI whole grains should help you lose weight and stay satisfied. If you make these changes and want to lose more weight, try reducing the total servings of starches in your diet, including unrefined grains, rice, pasta, and beans. Aim to eat four or fewer servings of starches per day.
STEP 2: EAT MORE VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
We’ve known all along that they’re good for us, but now science can explain why vegetables and fruits help prevent cancer, heart disease, and numerous other maladies. With all these health benefits in addition to their low carbohydrate content, it makes sense to trade in a serving of pasta or rice for a serving of vegetables.
Get fresh or get frozen. Choose a wide variety of fresh or frozen vegetables. Canned vegetables work in a pinch too, especially canned tomato products. Avoid frozen vegetables with breading or sauce; these tend to be high in carbohydrates, sodium, and hydrogenated fats.
Eat mostly fresh, low-carb vegetables. All green vegetables, such as broccoli, celery, leafy greens, and cucumbers, are smart choices for low carb eating. So are mushrooms, radishes, and cauliflower. These vegetables are low in carbs and don’t spike your blood sugar. But don’t completely eliminate higher-carb vegetables such as potatoes, especially if they help you stick with the low-carb approach in the long run. Many high-carb vegetables provide important nutrients. These include beets, carrots, onions, peas, pumpkin, turnips, and winter squash.
STEP 3: FOCUS ON HEALTHY FATS AND LEAN PROTEIN
Some of the popular low-carb diets suggest eating as much protein and fat as you want, as long as you keep carbohydrates low. This may not be a healthy approach for everyone. Numerous studies show that diets high in saturated fat (the kind found in butter, cheese, and fattier cuts of meat) can lead to heart disease. The key to smart low-carb eating is to replace refined carbs with moderate portions of lean protein foods and unsaturated fats.
Opt for lean cuts of meat. Red meat is rich in iron, zinc, and B vitamins and adds variety to your diet. There’s no need to swear off it, but try to limit red meats to two or three meals per week. Lean cuts are the smartest choice. If beef is on your shopping list, choose tenderloin, top loin, sirloin, top round, eye of round, tip, or flank steak. When choosing pork, look to tenderloin, sirloin, rib chops, lean boneless ham, or Canadian bacon.
Choose poultry wisely. Most poultry is lean if you avoid the skin. Chicken breasts and legs make good choices. Read labels when buying ground turkey or chicken. Ground turkey breast has the least fat. Seven percent low-fat ground turkey is another good choice. It contains a little more fat that helps keep the meat moist. Packages labeled simply “ground turkey” include the greatest proportion of fatty parts.
Eat more fish. Fish is a terrific source of important healthy fats. Our bodies require omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and they can only be obtained from food because our bodies do not make them. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, halibut, cod, and bluefish. When you can, choose fresh fish-the flavor beats frozen and canned hands down.
Pick a better butter. If you use butter, limit saturated fat by choosing light butter when you can. Light butter has half the saturated fat and half the calories of regular butter. It tastes great on toast, muffins, and vegetables.
STEP 4: GO EASY ON ADDED SUGARS
If sugar only had some valuable nutrients, eating it would not be much of a problem. Alas, sugar does not contain significant amounts of any nutrients and supplies merely empty carbohydrates to your diet.
Beware of low-fat labels. Many low-fat foods contain added sugar to make up for the flavor lost when fat is taken out. Scan down to the “Sugars” line on the Nutrition Facts label. Divide the grams of sugar by 4, and you’ll see how many teaspoons of sugar you get in each serving. If you like to read ingredients lists instead, watch out for any of the following: sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, and lactose. Each of these simple sugars bumps up the carbohydrate content of the food.
Keep tabs on milk. To your body, the lactose in milk is a simple sugar very similar to table sugar. Of course, milk contains other important nutrients such as calcium, vitamins A and D, niacin, and riboflavin. So you shouldn’t avoid milk altogether. But to limit milk’s naturally occurring sugar, try to drink no more than 1 cup of milk and no more than 1 cup of yogurt a day. Choose reduced-fat dairy products whenever you can; they are not significantly higher in carbohydrates than whole milk products but are much lower in fat.
Eat mostly low-GI fruit. While fruit is generally good for you, the fructose in fruit is a simple sugar. But since it comes packaged with a treasury of fiber and nutrients, try for two or three servings of fruit a day. Again, your body metabolizes this type of sugar much like table sugar. Eat low-GI fruits whenever you can. Which ones are low GI? Apples, grapes, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, pears, and plums. (Higher-GI fruits include watermelon, pineapple, canned fruit cocktail, and canned fruit in heavy syrup.)
STEP 5: EAT REASONABLE PORTION SIZES
When it comes to food, size does matter. The difference between a standard 1/2-cup serving of pasta and the amount you actually put on your plate could turn a good-for-you meal into a fattening one. Early on in your weight loss effort, measure out your
food a few times to get used to how a standard serving size looks on the plate. See below for a list of standard serving sizes, or use the following visual cues. Once you get used to dishing out standard serving sizes, you’ll be able to eyeball them and skip the measuring cups.
1 cup = closed fist
1/2 cup = tennis ball
2 tablespoons = Ping-Pong ball
1 teaspoon = top of thumb (from tip to joint)
3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish = deck of cards
1 ounce of cheese = top of thumb (from tip to joint)
What’s a Serving?
Here’s a guide to smart low-carb serving sizes. Use these to keep track of how much you’re eating.
VEGETABLE: 1/2 cup raw, chopped, or cooked; 1/4 cup vegetable juice; 1 cup raw, leafy greens
STARCH: 1 slice whole wheat bread; 1/2 whole wheat bagel or muffin; 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cereal, pasta, brown rice, or other whole grain; 1/2 cup cooked beans, corn, potatoes, rice, or sweet potatoes
NUTS: 1 ounce nuts without shell; 2 tablespoons peanut butter
PROTEIN: 1 ounce cooked lean beef, pork, lamb, skinless poultry, fish, or shellfish; 1ounce hard cheese (preferably reduced-fat); 1 egg
FAT, UNSATURATED: 1 teaspoon ghee (clarified butter); 1 teaspoon oil (olive, canola, walnut, or flaxseed); 1 teaspoon regular mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon oil-and-vinegar dressing; 5 large olives; 1/8 medium avocado
FAT, SATURATED: 1 teaspoon butter; 1 slice bacon; 1 ounce salt pork; 1 tablespoon heavy cream; 1 tablespoon cream cheese; 2 tablespoons sour cream; 2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
FRUIT: 1 small to medium piece; 1cup whole strawberries or melon cubes; 1/2 cup canned or cut fruit; 3/4 cup fruit juice; 1/4 cup dried fruit
MILK: 1 cup fat-free milk; 1 cup fat-free or low-fat unsweetened yogurt; 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese or cottage cheese; 3/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
Food Labels for the Carb Savvy
The Nutrition Facts label made great strides in clarifying nutrition information on food products. However, the details of carbohydrate content can still be confusing. Here are four tips that clear things up:
1. CHECK THE SERVING SIZE FIRST. This number is right at the top because all the figures below it are based on that serving size. If you are going to eat a larger serving, increase all of the nutritional figures, including the number of carbohydrates.
2. READ THE “AS PREPARED” FIGURES. Packaged products sometimes call for the addition of eggs or milk to finish preparation of the food. Read the “As Prepared” figures to see if the carbohydrates go up.
3. STAY TO THE LEFT. Look at the total calories, grams, and milligrams that appear on the left side of the label. The “% Daily Value” on the right is based on 2,000 calories a day, which may not be what you’re eating.
4. FOCUS ON THE “TOTAL CARBOHYDRATE” FIGURES. These are the most important figures to look at when you’re watching carb intake. They represent the sum of sugars plus starch plus soluble fiber plus insoluble fiber.