Bear in mind that there is a huge difference between Cheese Doodles and oatmeal. Both might be categorized as carbs, but their benefits are on opposite ends of the health spectrum. What is a “bad carb”?. Here’s the simplest answer: white flour, refined sugar, and white rice. More broadly, any food made primarily of a carb that has been processed in such a way as to strip out ingredients that hinder quick and easy cooking. Why are refined carbs a problem? Easy: They digest so quickly that they cause blood sugar surges that lead to weight gain and other health troubles.
Here are ways to avoid troublesome carbs while still getting the fuel you need for good health.
1. Tell the waiter to hold the bread. At almost every restaurant, your meal starts with a basket of rolls, breads, and crackers made from white flour. If it’s not put on the table, you won’t eat any. Or, if you really need something to nibble on, ask if they have whole wheat varieties.
2. At restaurants, ask for brown rice, and limit how much you eat to one cup. In fact, some restaurants have started offering to swap a vegetable for the rice in their combo dinners, knowing that many people are on low-carb diets. At home, always cook brown rice instead of white. Brown rice hasn’t been processed and still has its high-fiber nutrients.
3. Instead of bread, use eggplant slices to make a delicious sandwich. Broil two thick slices of eggplant until brown, then add mozzarella and tomato, olive oil and basil to one slice, suggests Nicole Glassman, owner of Mindful Health in New York City. Top with the other slice of eggplant and broil again until the cheese melts.
4. Wrap your food in lettuce leaves. Yes, skip the bun, tortillas, and bread slices and instead make a sandwich inside lettuce leaves. Glassman suggests going Mexican with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, salsa, and chicken; Asian with sesame seeds, peanuts, bean sprouts, cut up green beans, and shrimp with a touch of soy sauce; or deli style with turkey, cheese, and mustard.
5. Buy old-fashioned snacks in kid-size bags. Truth is, pretzels, tortilla chips, potato chips, and cookies are mostly bad carbs, made primarily of refined flour, sugar, salt, and/or oil. You want to remove as many of these foods from your daily eating as you can. But if you can’t live without them, buy them in small bags — 1 ounce is a typical “lunch box” size — and limit yourself to just one bag a day.
6. Break yourself of your old spaghetti habits. Almost everyone loves a big bowl of pasta, topped with a rich tomato sauce. The tomato sauce couldn’t be better for you; the spaghetti, however, is pure carbohydrate. While spaghetti is fine to eat every now and then, for those sensitive to carbs or wishing to cut back on their noodle intake, here are some alternatives to the usual spaghetti dinner:
- – Here’s the easiest choice: Switch to whole wheat pasta. It is denser than traditional pasta, with a firm, al dente texture similar to what you’d get in Italy.
- – Grill vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and onion and slice them into long, thin pieces. Mix up and pour your spaghetti sauce over the vegetables for a delicious and immensely healthy meal.
- – Substitute spaghetti squash for the pasta. Boil or microwave the squash until soft, then scoop out the seeds and pull the strands of squash from the shell with a fork. Top with your favorite sauce and a grating of real Parmesan.
- –Try healthy whole grains as a replacement for pasta. Spaghetti sauce goes better than you’d expect on brown rice, barley, chickpeas, and such.
7. Eat potatoes boiled with the skin on. The effect of potatoes on blood sugar depends on how the potatoes are prepared. No need to unspud yourself completely! Also, new potatoes tend to have fewer simple carbs than other types of potatoes.
8. Eat lightly of the new low-carb products. More than 1,000 low-carb products were introduced in 2003, but the FDA has yet to publish any guidelines as to what “low carb” really means. Instead, many new “low carb” foods are to carb-cutting what “low fat” cookies were to fat-cutting: just a new way of pitching foods high in calories and low in nutrient value. In fact, Consumer Reports found that many packaged low-carb foods are actually higher in calories than their regular counterparts. For instance, a serving of Keto’s low-carb Rocky Road ice cream has 270 calories, almost double the calories found in many regular ice creams and twice as much fat.
9. Think lightly of the new net-carb measurements. Many of the low-carb weight-loss programs are trying to get their followers to use “net carbs” as the measurement of choice for the appropriateness of a carb food in their diet. This is a measurement of the “bad carbs” left in a food after you adjust for those carb ingredients that don’t immediately affect blood sugar. The folks at Atkins Nutritionals say the proper way to measure net carbs is to subtract fiber (as well as sugar alcohols and glycerin, when applicable) from the total carbs listed on the nutrition facts panel of a product. But that’s just their version, and that’s the problem. “Net carbs” is not a regulated or standardized measurement — manufacturers can define it how they want, and say what they want on product packaging. And there is no science to say that tracking net carbs offers any unique weight-loss benefit.
10. Never let yourself get too hungry. Eat every three to five waking hours, and eat only until you’re satisfied but not stuffed. You should never reach the point where you feel ravenous. Not only is that a recipe for overeating, but your body will want sugary, quick-to-digest “bad carbs” to quickly satiate your need for fuel.
11. Instead of eggs and bacon, try low-carb versions of cereals. For example, the Nature’s Path cereal line offers all the benefits of whole grains without the “problem” carbs found in added sugar. Another option is low-carb, high-fiber muffins and breads (spread with no-sugar-added jams or nut butter).
12. At the movies, skip the popcorn. Popcorn isn’t a bad food, but it does happen to be a simple carb with little other nutritional value and, when bought at the theater, is often drowning in salt and fat as well. Better movie snacks are small bags of nuts or seeds and fresh or dried fruit. Just sneak them into the theater in your purse or a backpack.
13. Mix up a sweet dessert. Combine nonfat cream, unsweetened cocoa, sugar substitute, and ice in a blender. Or mix mascarpone and sugar substitute with whipped cream and a hint of lemon zest.
14. Make your own quickie low-carb pizza. Lightly toast a whole grain, low-carb tortilla and top with chopped tomatoes and shredded, part-skim, mozzarella cheese. Season with salt and pepper and return to the toaster oven until cheese is melted and bubbling.
15. Make french fries with turnips. Missing those fries with that bun-less burger? Heimowitz suggests cutting turnips into sticks and tossing with olive oil and salt. Bake at 425°F for 30 minutes, turning frequently. Voilà! A crisp side dish with none of the fat of frying and far fewer carbs than from potatoes.