Thanks to the popularity of low-carb diets, carbohydrates are vilified more than any other macro. But carbs are an important part of a healthy diet. They fuel your brain, and your body needs a certain amount to function properly. Plus, many carbs are high in fibre and other important nutrients you need for a well-balanced diet.
Still, there are some carbs that aren’t so nutritious. And while they can have a place every so often in your diet (as treats, or quick fuel during a workout), these “empty” carbs often make your blood sugar spike (hello, sugar crash) without doing much else for you nutrition-wise, says registered dietician Elizabeth Ann Shaw.
If you’re trying to stick to a low-carb or healthier diet, there are a few carbs you may want to keep in check – but luckily there are some better alternatives that still taste great.
Thought of as “diet food,” rice cakes are actually just empty calories that won’t fill you up. There are 17 carbs per cake, which isn’t super low, either. “Swap with one slice of whole-grain toast for more fibre, similar carbohydrates, and greater satiety,” says Shaw.
White rice might taste great with takeout, but it lacks fibre due to its refined processing. There are about 36 grams of carbs in a one-quarter cup serving. Instead, ditch basic white rice for quinoa, which has more protein and fibre and almost 10 grams fewer carbs, says Shaw.
Even “healthy” cereals and granolas can have tons of sugar, so you’ll want to check the labels first. For a three-quarters cup serving, it could be around 22 grams of carbs, Shaw says. “Swap with one cup whole-grain oats, which has more fibre and heart-healthy grains to help lower cholesterol,” she says.
White bread has about 31 grams of carbs per slice, says Shaw, and it’s refined, so it’s stripped of its nutrients (meaning you’re getting literally nothing besides the carbs). “Swap with 100 percent whole grain and seed bread for more nutrients like protein, fibre, and heart-healthy omegas,” says Shaw.
No one is denying that chips are delicious. “But the salty snack has a ton of unnecessary carbs. About 15 Lay’s potato chips have 15 grams of carbs,” says Natalie Rizzo, registered dietician. Instead, make your own healthier chips, or try a veggie chip, like kale, if you’re craving something salty and crunchy.
They look healthy (they have fruit! and oats on top!). But unfortunately, a lot of muffins are basically cupcakes without the frosting. If you truly love muffins, make them an occasional treat – not a breakfast staple that will give you a sugar crash an hour later.
“Although inexpensive and easy to make, pasta is high in carbs with nearly 43 grams of carbs per cup, cooked,” says Chicago-based registered dietitian and A Sweat Life ambassador Maggie Michalczyk. “Whole-wheat pasta comes in just a little bit better at around 37 grams of carbs per cup, cooked.” But this type of pasta does contain more fibre, which will keep you feeling full longer.
Another solution: Switch to a non-white grain pasta, or embrace zoodles or spaghetti squash.
“Many are made up of enriched flour and even hydrogenated oils in some cases,” says Michalczyk. Plus, one wrap has about 35 grams of carbs. “Instead, opt for leafy greens to do the ‘wrapping’ for you. Greens are nearly carb- and calorie-free and are packed with nutrients like vitamin A, C, and E,” she says.
Nothing says brunch quite like bagels, but they’re also super high in carbs. “Bagels can be equivalent to four slices of bread (66 grams carbs) and are often refined, meaning they lack dietary fibre,” says Kailey Proctor, a registered dietician.
“Swap a bagel for an English muffin, and top it with other nutrient-rich foods like avocado, hummus, or peanut butter,” says Proctor. An English muffin only has 24 grams of carbs.
“A glass of unsweetened apple juice contains about 48 grams of carbs, which many people may not expect since it’s liquid! And that’s for an unsweetened version,” says Michalczyk. “Skip it all together and opt for water with a lemon wedge. If that doesn’t cut it, opt for coconut water, which has about nine grams of carbs per cup,” she says.
Yoghurt is great for you – if it’s free of sugary additives. Yoghurt has naturally-occurring sugars and carbs, but when you go for flavoured varieties, one cup can have upward of 45 grams of carbs, Michalczyk says.
Rather than reaching for the flavoured stuff, opt for plain yoghurt and add fruit and other healthy toppings yourself.
On average, one bar contains about 45 grams of carbs, which can be great hiking fuel, but not the best choice for an everyday snack. “What’s worse is that bars can contain a lot of extra sugars and syrups,” says Michalczyk.
Read ingredient labels to find ones with minimal ingredients (think: something that reads like a recipe), plus low-sugar, high-protein content. “I like pumpkin seed bars from Health Warrior because of their simple ingredient list and because they are only sweetened with honey,” she says.
It’s time to ditch drinking sweetened beverages once and for all since they’re packed with processed ingredients, and carbs that aren’t good for you says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietician. “With upward of 40grams of carbs per can, soda contributes excess unhealthy carbs and sugar to your diet – even if you’re only drinking one can,” she says. Try sparkling water that’s flavoured with fruit instead or some gut-healthy kombucha.
Fancy Coffee Drinks
“If you’re starting your morning with one of these, I beg you to reconsider. Another beverage that is packed with empty carbs, calories, and sugar, fancy fraps should definitely not be part of your daily diet,” says Michalczyk. Get this – a tall ‘frappuccino’ without whipped cream still has roughly 40 grams of carbs a cup.
“Most crackers are made with white flour, added sugar, and oils – which makes them empty carbs,” says Michalczyk. “Plus I don’t know about you but it’s really hard to just eat the serving size.”
The good news: There are healthier cracker option if you’re really craving them.
While granola is marketed as a health food, many brands contain excess added sugar and processed additives. And if you’re looking to cut back on carbs, be careful of your granola portion sizes, says Michalczyk. “A half cup of most granolas has over 45 g of carb. I’m not saying you can never have granola, but this is definitely a food that you should read the label and portion out accordingly,” she says.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthsa.co.za
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