What exactly are carbohydrates…?
Nancy, I hear so much talk about carbohydrates—and I’m not even sure that they are. My doctor said I should eat a low carbohydrate diet to help with a medical issue. I don’t know what to eat. Thanks for answering this embarrassingly basic question…
Answer: While your question “What are carbs?” may seem very basic, you are not the only person who is confused. Case in point, a client who said he had stopped eating carbs – but then reported he ate oatmeal for breakfast and whole wheat bread with his lunch. Both of those foods are “carbs.” He was actually trying to say he had given up eating refined white flour and sugar.
Grain-based foods / starchy foods, such as bread, bagel, crackers, pretzels, potato, rice, pasta, etc.
Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, etc..
Vegetables – all kinds
Fruits and fruit juices – all kinds
Sugars (including honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, soda pop, marshmallows, etc.)
An overall “low carb diet” might have about 30-40 grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15 per snack (at least 120 g carb/day today). But this depends on your total energy needs for the day. A registered dietitian (RD) could help you determine what would be a low carb diet for your medical condition. Most athletes who train 1 to 1.5 hours a day could appropriately consume at least 60 to 80 g carb/meal (250 to 350 g carb/day) to optimally fuel their muscles.
When folks go on a “low carb diet”, they generally stop eating refined white flour, white rice, white bread and other refined grains. But, if they then fill-up on lots of bananas, sweet potatoes, beets, corn on the cob, apples and copious amounts of fruits and veggies, they can consume a lot of carbs. Granted, those foods are “quality carbs” in terms of nutritional value, but they still have calories that count.
A low carb diet differs from a no carb diet. Rather than trying to limit all carbs, your better bet is to try to reduce your intake of refined sugars. You can easily do that by focusing on eating carb-protein combinations every 4 hours: peanut butter + banana; apple + low-fat cheese; nuts + raisins; eggs + whole-wheat toast; Greek yogurt + granola; chicken + brown rice. Protein fills you up and is satiating, so you won’t crave sweets and will be content to minimize your intake of sugary carbs. You won’t be craving them.
Foods that are NOT carbohydrate-based include protein (peanut butter, nuts, eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.) and fat. Fat includes health-eroding saturated fats (greasy meats, bacon, sausage, butter, pepperoni, coconut oil, etc.) and health-promoting fats (nuts, PB, olive oil, avocado, guacamole).
For more information: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook
To find a local sports dietitian who can convert “carbs” into “real foods”, use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.