Combining Carbs and Protein

One of the nutritional concepts that we teach at The Resort and that I find is the most practical and realistic for people to follow is the plate method for meal planning. With the plate method, we try and make 1/2 of our plate vegetables and/or fruits, 1/4 of our plate lean protein and 1/4 of our plate a whole grain. I like this method because it can be a good visualization for people, and it also advocates eating a combination of healthy carbohydrates with good, lean proteins.

Combining carbohydrates and proteins together when we are eating meals and snacks is generally a healthy way to eat. If we just consume a carbohydrate by itself, the energy tends to enter our bloodstream more quickly and can cause spikes in blood sugar, depending on what type of carbohydrate is eaten. But if we add a protein to the carbohydrate, the food gets digested and enters the bloodstream more slowly, giving us energy for a longer period of time.
This concept is particularly important for those who are diabetic or may be insulin resistant or pre-diabetic. For these individuals, carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates and simple sugars can cause quick spikes in the blood sugars followed by dips that can make the individual more hungry. By adding a lean protein and even a healthy fat to the carbohydrate eaten, these huge spikes and dips in blood sugar can be significantly reduced. This can happen particularly if the carbohydrate eaten is a whole grain and contains good amounts of fiber.
Adding lean proteins does not necessarily mean adding more meat or poultry to meals and snacks. Eggs, natural yogurts (Greek yogurt has a high protein content), low-fat cheeses and low-fat milks all contain protein. Additionally, there are many good vegetarian sources of protein like nuts, seeds, edamame, beans and other legumes.
I recently came across this article (click the link) that discusses the power of combining protein and carbohydrates together. The dietitian quoted in the article lists several examples of simple meals and snacks that combine both protein and carbohydrates, including:
  • Tuna fish on whole grain crackers
  • An apple with a piece of string cheese
  • An egg with a slice of whole grain toast
  • Cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese with a low-fat vinaigrette dressing (the dressing, if made with healthy oil like olive oil, adds a healthy fat, which is a good addition)
If you have oatmeal for breakfast, add a scoop of peanut butter or have an egg or yogurt on the side to add protein to your meal. If you eat fruit as a snack, add a protein like nut butter, some almonds, Greek yogurt or a slice of cheese. Hummus is a great snack in itself, as it is usually make with garbanzo beans, which have a good combination of carbohydrates and protein.
So the next time you reach for the crackers as a snack, add some protein and feel satisfied and energized for longer.
Rachel Andrew MPH, RD, CD