Carbs. A word that elicits fear in any dieter. But you aren’t a dieter and low-carb diets are a thing of the past!  instead, let’s focus on balance and quality. Americans DO in fact over-consume low-quality carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates themselves shouldn’t be feared. There are many ways to incorporate complex carbohydrates or a variety of grains, and still meet your weight loss or healthy lifestyle goals.

Typically carbohydrates are associated with deep-dish pizzas, large plates of pasta, loaves of bread, bags of chips and sugar-laden beverages. Even when trying to eat whole grains, most people get stuck in the rut of whole wheat breads, cereals and pastas. But just like we want variety in the other food groups, we want a variety of whole grains. 

Regardless of quality, any grain or complex carbohydrate can easily be over consumed.  Aim for 1/2 – 1 cup serving per meal. This is equivalent to two golf balls or a baseball. In order to watch your serving size:

  • Load your plate with non-starchy vegetables (ex: broccoli, kale, asparagus, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, leafy greens, etc.) to add volume to your meal and leave less room for grains.
  • Only cook the amount you will need OR once a large batch is finished cooking, pre-portion out single servings before sitting down to your meal.
  • Keep your fist as a guide. If the serving is longer than a loose fist, you’re probably consuming too much.

In addition, grains can be swapped for starchy vegetables as well. Some examples of these include:

  • Beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Spaghetti, butternut or acorn squash
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips

A great substitution is using spaghetti squash instead of pasta. Just cut the squash in half, place face down on a baking sheet covered with tin foil and bake for 30-45 minutes. Once cooled a bit, use a fork to scrape the flesh to resemble spaghetti noodles. Top with your favorite meat marinara or pesto sauce.

Last but not least, carbohydrates must always be paired with a protein and/or fat. (This also includes simple carbohydrates such as fruit). Not only will you feel better and more satisfied, it will also ensure proper and balanced nutrition to fuel your weight loss. Here are a few ideas:

  • Veggie omelet with sweet potato or fruit
  • Quinoa lettuce wraps with ground turkey
  • Taco salad with chicken and beans
  • Lean beef and brown rice stir fry with vegetables
  • 2% Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Hummus with olive oil and veggies
  • Apple with peanut or almond butter

A balanced and nutritionally sound meal can include complex carbohydrates. Just think outside the box! Adding starchy vegetables or new grains to a meal complete with protein and veggies is always a good approach to health. Happy eating!

Adapted from a blog post by Emily Fonnesbeck, Registered Dietician