Do you feel overwhelmed with messages that carbs are terrible? That they are the reason why you can’t lose weight and why you have digestive problems? And that they are the cause of chronic disease and obesity? What these messages often fail to explain is that there are various sources of carbohydrates in our diet- everywhere from fruits and vegetables, milk products and the often villainized whole grain products, to high sugar, high fat processed foods. Some of these high carbohydrate foods are not healthy – the refined, processed, high sugar, high fat ones (think store-bought cookies, muffins, white bread, french fries and potato chips). If you follow a diet rich in this types of foods, then yes, you aren’t making the healthiest choices and you are likely increasing your risk of chronic disease and being overweight. If instead, you only include these foods once in a while for fun, and focus more on nutrient dense carbohydrate foods such as WHOLE grains, veggies and fruits, low-fat dairy products, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds- then you’re on the right track.
Let’s Talk Grains And Starches: What Does a Healthy Portion Look Like?
When it comes to eating grain products and starchy foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn, it’s important to know what a healthy portion looks like. If you’re eating copious amounts of grains and starches everyday, you will likely notice unhealthy weight gain over time, simply because you’re consuming an excess of calories (coming from carbs). I usually recommend between 3-6 servings of whole grains per day for women, depending on their activity level, if they are pregnant or not, their age and whether or not they have a weight loss goal. One serving is equivalent to about 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, quinoa, sweet potato (or other cooked grain or starch) or 1 slice of whole grain bread or 1/2 of a pita. I usually suggest including one or two servings at each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) alongside some lean protein, veggies/fruit and healthy fat. The whole grain (or starch) serving at a meal should only take up about 1/4-1/3 of your plate. At snacks, I usually recommend focusing more on protein foods and veggies/fruit.
What should I be choosing when it comes to whole grains and starches?
All grains and starches can fit into your diet, but it’s important that the healthier whole grains dominate and the refined processed ones are only eaten occasionally, for fun. Here are some examples of healthier vs. not-so-healthy grain options:
1. Choose steel-cut or large flake oats over instant oats: Did you know that if you throw 1/3 cup large flake oats + 2/3 cup water or milk into a bowl (+ pinch of salt), cover it and microwave it for 2 minutes, you have ready-to-eat oatmeal? You can add more milk, brown sugar and fruit to taste. It’s just as easy, and much healthier than the sugary, refined instant oatmeal packages.
2. Choose sprouted grain bread vs. whole wheat bread: You may have heard of “sprouted grain bread” recently as it is growing in popularity. It’s fantastic. My favourite brand in Silver Hills. These breads are made with sprouted whole grains, which contain the healthy, edible components of the grain such as the bran, germ and endosperm. They are very high in fibre, higher in protein and full of nutrients as compared to normal white breads or whole wheat breads, which are made from ground wheat endosperm (flour). One slice of sprouted grain bread contains between 4-6 grams of fibre, which is double what most whole wheat breads contain.
3. Choose quinoa over couscous: Quinoa is as easy to prepare as white rice and it contains more fibre, protein and overall nutrition as compared to couscous, which is basically a small form of white pasta. Quinoa is gluten-free, low on the glycemic index (which means that it keeps your blood sugar more stable and also keeps you fuller longer) and is easy to cook, versatile and delicious. Cook quinoa the same way you would cook white rice and add to soups, salads, stews, casseroles or eat in its own.
4. Choose whole grain pasta over white pasta: Whole grain pasta offers more than double the fibre than regular pasta does. More fibre means that, after your meal, you will feel fuller longer and your blood sugar level will remain more stable. Choosing higher fibre grains will help to control your portion sizes (you won’t need as much) and your appetite. They also tend to contain more vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals than their refined, white counterparts.
5. Choose wheat berries over white rice: Wheat berries are whole, unprocessed wheat kernels that contain all three parts of the grain, including the germ, bran and endosperm. As a result, wheat berries retain all of the grain’s nutrients including vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals and they are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index. On the stovetop, add 1 cup of rinsed wheat berries to 2.5 cups boiling water. Reduce heat and cover for 45-60 minutes, until tender. Add to salads, soups, stews or eat in its own.
For more information on Healthy Whole Grains, visit The Healthy Grains Institute.
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