Always optimise your carbohydrates!
During my nutrition classes, we spend a lot of time talking about carbohydrates. As humans, we're designed to crave them, to be able to overeat them and to store the excess sugar from those carbs as fat; as hunter-gatherers, that was a genius bit of biochemistry.
We used to ricochet between food scarcity and food abundance, so having mechanisms that encouraged carb intake (when available) and fat storage (for when not available) was a good thing. The problem is, we just don't experience food scarcity any more. Far from it, in fact.
I bet wherever you are sitting in Bermuda right now, there are multiple sources of carbs within easy reach. Whether it's the Oreos in your cupboard, the candy at the checkouts or the doughnuts in the café close to your office. Not to mention all the restaurants and grocery stores that are everywhere. So avoiding them is tricky.
One of the issues is that carbs make us feel good. We tend to crave them especially when we are stressed and tired. As most people are stressed and tired most of the time (that's a different column!), it doesn't tend to end well.
I love carbs and I think they're a great source of energy for most people, but we need to know how to manage them in a healthy way.
Carb overdose leads to cravings, weight gain and fatigue, and contributes to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. We can include them, but let's optimise them so they work in our favour.
Five easy steps for optimising your carbs:
1, Know your carbs!
Most of us know that bread, flour, rice, potatoes, pasta and oats are carbs. Did you also know that root vegetables (eg carrots and parsnips), corn, beans, lentils, butternut squash, pumpkin, quinoa and fruit count as carbs too? That's before considering all the sweet stuff made with sugar that we eat! Understanding what functions as a carb is important for managing portion sizing.
2, Think: one quarter of your plate
Individual guidelines matter, so if you have a medical condition and have been given different instructions, then follow those! Your requirements may also change for weight loss programmes or for sports performance. For the mainstream, it's a good idea for adults to keep their carbs at one-quarter of their plate.
So, taking into account the information from above, that means at lunch or dinner, you could have one-quarter plate of protein (eg chicken), one-quarter plate of carbs (eg carrots) and one-half plate of green vegetables/salad (eg broccoli and zucchini). Don't add carrots/corn/cranberries on your salad unless you are counting them as carbs! If you want fruit or dessert with dinner, then just have protein and veggies for a main course.
3, Go “whole”
This one is predictable. You always want to go “whole” with your carbs. Replace white rice with brown. White bread with wholewheat. Wholemeal isn't the same, you want to be able to see and taste the grains in your bread! The fibre in whole carbs helps to slow the release of sugars into your bloodstream.
Also, that tends to be where the vitamins and minerals are. If you take off the fibrous coating, you usually lose the nutrients too! Avoid refined carbs, especially the sweet and sugary stuff, as much as you possibly can.
4, Carb cycle
If you are very active, you might need to increase your carbs on days when you are doing lots of activity. But make sure you still only have the good ones! On more sedentary days, it's OK to strip the carbs back a bit. Matching carbs to activity can be an effective way of keeping carbs in your diet without storing excess sugars as fat.
5, Choose colourful carbs
Brown rice, quinoa or wholewheat crackers are all better options, but they are not very nutrient rich, really. If you choose carrots, butternut squash or fruit as your carbs then you are getting a big dose of antioxidants too.
This Asian confetti salad is a great example of a dish that provides carbs (the carrots and a little honey) but tons of antioxidants as well. And it's delicious!
Asian Confetti Salad Serves 4-6
2 tbs sesame seeds
¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp lime juice
½ tsp soy sauce
1 tbs honey (or agave)
1 ½ tbs peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 medium carrots, shredded
½ small head red cabbage, cored, cut crosswise, sliced into very narrow ribbons and then separated
1 yellow bell pepper, deseeded, cut lengthwise and then sliced into the thinnest strips possible
1 red pepper, prepared as the yellow pepper
½ medium sweet white onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
½ cup (packed) fresh cilantro, chopped
1, Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over a medium heat until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
2, In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, ginger and cayenne. Set aside.
3, In a large bowl, combine the carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, onion and cilantro. Toss thoroughly to mix well.
4, Add the dressing, then toss again, until evenly coated.
5, Garnish with the sesame seeds.
• Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: www.natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram