Carbs are a constant topic of nutrition conversation. No matter what education topic I’m presenting on or discussing with a group, carbs always come up. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they don’t eat carbs, I’d be well on my way to being able to afford a luxurious Hawaiian vacation. And….they’re saying this as they walk out of the fro yo shop with a massive serving of, yep you guessed it, carbs.
Carbs are not evil and you will not get fat if you eat them sensibly. Weight gain comes if you eat TOO MUCH in the way of carbs, or any other food for that matter. The key to eating carbs is to choose smart carbs. The kind that actually have nutritive value like fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. I’m talking about whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables and dairy. Added sugars and refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, sodas, pastries and cookies are the types that you should limit.
Here are 5 easy ways to eat SMART carbs
- Swap out white pasta with whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat pasta tastes great and contains the “F” word that us dietitians love so much…..FIBER! Women need at least 25 grams per day while men need 38 grams. You don’t need to give up pasta. Just switch it out to the better option. Don’t forget to make AT LEAST 1/2 of all your daily grains, whole grains.
- Eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Not only does fruit have a ton of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that work synergistically together, fruit also has fiber. Juice is severely lacking in fiber department. That fiber from an orange will give you some sense of fullness while a glass of orange juice probably won’t. 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit per day is the recommended daily amount by the USDA. So, if you’re thirsty, grab some water. If you want a healthy carb, munch on a piece of fruit.
- Got a salt craving? Instead of going for the chips, go for popcorn! Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain?? I find that to be awesome and amazing! Most microwave popcorns have loads of crap in the ingredients list. Instead, opt for bagged popcorn with a minimal ingredients list. Popcorn, salt, oil and some flavoring such as herbs or garlic should be the only ingredients listed. It’s also super easy to make your own popcorn! Add 1/2 cup of kernals to a brown paper lunch bag and fold the top of the bag over tightly. Cook in microwave for about 2 minutes. Add salt and seasonings to popcorn such as garlic powder, parmesan cheese, chili powder, smoked paprika or herbs. You could even drizzle a little bit of butter on your popcorn for touch of decadence. Have you ever tried truffle salt on popcorn?? OMG YUM!!
- Not all yogurt is created equal. Plain milk and yogurt have natural sugars called lactose. That’s absolutely fine. What’s not fine is when manufacturers ADD sugar to yogurt to make it extra sweet and tasty. They’re more like dessert! Next time you go to the supermarket, pick up a few different brands of yogurt and compare sugar amounts. You may be pretty shocked. Many also have artificial sweeteners, additives, fillers and gelatin. Totally not necessary. I recommend that you buy plain greek yogurt and add fruit. If you need more sweetness, mix with a touch of honey. Greek yogurt has protein, B vitamins, calcium and probiotics. Creamy and delicious! Mix with peanut butter or almond butter for a filling afternoon snack!
- Sweet potatoes…Just eat them. They’re good for you! Sweet potatoes are packed full of beta carotene, vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. There are endless ways of preparing them: bake, steam, microwave, roast, mash, puree, etc, etc. At 27 grams of carbs for 1 medium sweet potato, I love eating them as a part of pre-workout meal, peeled of course. All of the fiber from the skin would not settle so well once you get moving. Checkout my sweet potato pre-workout snack on Self.Com . I know what you’re thinking….are sweet potato fries good for you? Well, they’re really not any better than regular french fries, but you can make a better for you version by making oven roasted sweet potato fries. Recipe below for Oven Roasted Sweet Potato Fries with Walnuts and Blue Cheese. Healthy fats and antioxidants come from the walnuts and there’s just enough blue cheese to make you feel indulgent!
***What’s the different between yams and sweet potatoes?? The dark orange tubers labeled as “garnet yams” at the grocery store are really sweet potatoes. The lighter, yellow-ish ones are just another variety of sweet potato. Chances are, the only place you’ll probably see a true yam is in an ethnic grocery store that specializes in African or Asian products.
Extra credit: Eat your veggies! I think this is a given. We all know that vegetables are good for you and are a smart carb choice chock full of fiber. How much veggies do you need daily? About 2-1/2 to 3 cups. When you really think about what that looks like, it’s completely doable in a day!
What's better than sweet potato fries? Oven Roasted sweet potato fries with walnuts AND blue cheese!
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick sticks
- 1 tsp oil (olive, canola, grapeseed, avocado or culinary algae oil)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 cup walnut halves, very coarsely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon crumbled blue cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.
- Place silicone baking mat or parchment paper on a sheet pan.
- Put potatoes, oil and salt on baking mat and combine to coat potatoes. Spread potatoes, leaving space between them. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Add walnuts to pan and cook for 5 more minutes. Be careful not to burn the walnuts.
- Transfer to a platter and sprinkle blue cheese on top while potatoes and walnuts are still hot.