With all of us (hopefully you’re included) trying to live a healthier lifestyle by eating better and exercising there have been a lot of ‘fads’ out there as to what’s good and what’s not. One minute eggs are bad, the next they are fine. Sugars are terrible for you but not artificial sweeteners are worse. And then there’s the whole debacle of carbohydrates. Carbs have been touted as the feared food in fad diets. And some carbs have also been promoted as a healthful nutrient associated with lower risk of chronic disease. So what really is the right answer? How can you tell a good carb from a bad carb?
We can reap the health benefits of good carbs by choosing carbohydrates full of fiber. You want these carbs as they get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Examples: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. We can minimize the health risk of bad carbs by eating fewer refined and processed carbohydrates that strip away beneficial fiber. Examples: white bread and white rice.
Whole-grain products such as brown rice, whole-grain pasta, beans, whole wheat bread, whole oats, buckwheat, millet, whole rye, whole-grain barley and whole-grain corn are considered good carbohydrates. These foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are beneficial to your health. Also, they have a low glycemic index because they cause a slower change in blood sugar levels. Diets rich in high glycemic index foods cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels, thereby increasing the risk for diabetes and heart disease. By contrast, foods with a low glycemic index help you achieve a more stable blood sugar and improve weight loss and control Type 2 diabetes.
Refined grains such as white bread, pizza crust, pretzels, hamburger buns and those ginormous mega-muffins are bad carbohydrates. During the refining process, these grains are stripped of B-vitamins, fiber and certain minerals. In addition, they also have a high glycemic index, negatively affecting blood sugar levels. Other examples of bad carbohydrates include chips, cookies, sodas, bagels, cake, pastries, pancakes, soda, high fructose corn syrup and baked goods. These foods are low in nutrient density as they have little or no nutritional value and supply a large amount of calories.
Now for me carbs are my downfall. I love bread, pizza and pretzels but the worst part is my thighs love them more. Oy! However for me, everything in moderation. So yeah if I’m craving pizza and want it every day (like I have done in the past) I may do a small one using my high gluten flour and the other dough as a whole wheat with honey. The flavors are awesome and I still get pizza – as long as my butt exercises!
So here are some smart carb substitutions I make that hopefully you will too!
Brown rice for white rice
When white rice is processed, the “brown” bran layer gets stripped away, cutting out essential nutrients (like fiber). Opt for brown rice for a fuller nutritional profile.
Zucchini ribbons for pasta
Thin strips or ribbons of zucchini are a great stand in for carb-packed pastas. Plus, it’s one excuse to skip the boiling—simply sautee for a few minutes until soft. Check out my Zucchini Ribbon Pasta Recipe!
Quinoa for couscous
While couscous is made from processed wheat flour, quinoa is a whole-grain superfood packed with protein and nutrients. Bonus points: They have almost the exact same texture.
Mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes
Just like the turnip mash, mashed cauliflower has only a fraction of the calories of potatoes and it’s nearly impossible to taste the difference. Got picky eaters at the table? Try mixing half potato, half cauliflower.
Rolled oats for breadcrumbs
While breadcrumbs can pack extra sodium, using rolled oats seasoned with herbs is a great way to sneak another whole grain into any meal. Try this with my oat crusted chicken tenders!
Lettuce leaves for tortilla wraps
Forgoing the carbs for fresh lettuce is a fun (and easy) switch that can lighten up any wrap or taco dish like how I did in my hearty healthy lettuce spoons!
Pita for bread
One 4-inch whole-wheat pita runs around 80 calories and only 1 gram of fat (though there is some variation from brand to brand). Two slices of whole-wheat bread typically comes in at around 138 calories.
Cucumber rounds for crackers
We all love crackers and that little bit of crunch you get. Swap out the carbs in the crackers for crispy rounds of cucumbers!
Spaghetti Squash for Lasagna Noodles
Spaghetti squash is awesome is a great substitution for pasta to help cut back on the carbs without cutting back on the flavor! Check out my Squash the Noodles Lasagna recipe!