Carbohydrates are often labeled as bad for us. So many people are convinced that restricting carbs will lead to weight loss. While it’s true that we need portion control, I would argue that oils are easier to overeat and have a larger energy balance impact. Four tablespoons of olive oil on a salad as opposed to two would significantly increase the calories without giving us a “full” signal.
Carbohydrates are also easy to overeat. Our tendency to go too far largely depends on quality.Salty crackers or sweet pastries out of packages are easy to keep eating, but good luck stuffing yourself with steel cut oats. Case in point: a few weeks ago, I made a beef roast in a slow cooker with vegetables. I had a large serving as well as a side salad. After eating it, I felt even hungrier than when I started the meal, so I went to the cabinet for a few handfuls of raisins. I had had the same meal with a side of quinoa before, and it filled me up for hours.
Sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, or (gasp!) bread for your carbohydrate source? Experiment with what works best for you.
The Secret Is in the Preparation
Having a high-quality carbohydrate full of nutrients and fiber will help most of us stay fuller longer and avoid the “handfuls” of snacking later. The trick is knowing how to prepare them so you can have them on hand.
Here is what to buy and how to prepare some high-quality carbohydrates. Of course, this list is what I like and not at all exhaustive. However, it’s not a bad start if you feel a bit lost in terms of what a quality carbohydrate is.
- White or Sweet Potato
- Brown Rice Pasta
- Sprouted Bread
- Sourdough Bread
- Steel Cut Oats
High-Quality Carbohydrate Preparation Tips
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Clean potatoes and poke with fork.
- Coat with olive oil, wrap in foil, and bake for 60-90 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut potatoes into french fry size.
- Coat with olive oil, lay out in a pan with foil, and season with salt and pepper.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then flip and bake another 10 minutes.
- Microwave for 5 minutes, flip once, and cook another 5 minutes.
Pronounced “keen-wa.” You can do this two ways: in a pot on the stove, or with a rice cooker. Both are great options. Remember to always rinse your quinoa!
Pot on stove:
- Put quinoa in pot and turn heat to medium.
- Let the quinoa toast for about a minute. This brings out more flavor, which is an advantage over the rice cooker.
- Pour in the recommended amount of water and stir. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. After 15 minutes of simmering, remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes.
- Follow your rice cooker directions for water and rice ratio.
- Mix in some butter and a touch of salt, and you’ll have delicious quinoa.
- Pro tip: If you have leftover broth, use that instead of water for lots of flavor.
3. Brown Rice Pasta
- Boil a large pot of water.
- Once it reaches a full boil, dump pasta in.
- Stir immediately, as brown rice pasta tends to stick at first.
- Cook 7-10 minutes, and test it out a few times to make sure you like the tenderness.
- Pour into a strainer and immediately rinse with cold water.
4. Sprouted or Sourdough Bread
Sprouted, or Ezekiel Bread, is a great carbohydrate choice with lots of nutrients and protein. However, I like it because it freezes and thaws well, so convenience is a big plus.
Sourdough bread is dear to my heart because my wife can eat it, whereas she is normally sensitive to wheat. This is because the fermentation process eats up many of the fructans, a sugar that can be hard to digest. Only buy your sourdough from a high-quality bakery, where it is made with a real fermentation process. Many of the store-bought brands use yeast and other methods to increase the speed of cooking.
Fresh, local sourdough bread is a delicious carbohydrate option, if your body can tolerate it.
Have a look around the Internet and you will discover there is still some debate as to whether fruit is healthy or not. Are natural sugars better than added sugars? Many would say no, but I say this is the wrong question to ask. In reality, we should be asking, what do we get for our sugars? With added sugar, usually nothing.
Fruit and other whole foods contain a host of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (an entire class of compounds that are not essential for us to live but offer health benefits). While all fruits have benefits, here is a list to get started:
- Banana (convenient because of built-in portion control and natural Tupperware, the peel, for storage)
- Pineapple (which contains bromelain, an anti-inflammatory compound)
Remember, fresh is great, but only buy what you need. Fresh fruit can go bad quickly. Frozen isn’t a bad option, especially for shakes or oatmeal. Going with what is in season is a great idea too, because you can get fresh and local for a good price.
6. Steel Cut Oats
Steel cut oats are one of my favorite things to have in the morning. They are full of fiber and act as a nice vehicle for other healthy foods.
Here is my slow cooker recipe:
- Coat the slow cooker generously with coconut oil.
- Add 3 cups water for every 1 cup oats (this makes at least two portions, so add or subtract as necessary).
- Add raisins and chia seeds. I use around a 1/4-1/2 cup each.
- Cook overnight 6-9 hours on low.
- In the morning, you can add some or all of the following: cinnamon, vanilla extract, frozen berries, or ground flax. I also recommend adding protein powder like whey or pea (vanilla is best for flavoring). Use 1 scoop, or roughly 25g. Mix well, and enjoy.
Identify Your Carbohydrate Winners
This list is a good start, but you also need to experiment with what works for you. I’ve noticed that some carb sources fill my clients up better than others. Keep a food journal and begin to recognize patterns. If you have half a sweet potato with a meal and are full for hours with no urge to snack, that’s a win. If you have quinoa and still never feel fully satisfied, it may not be the best choice for you.
Just remember, carbs are not the enemy, lack of a plan is. Preparing carb sources in new ways with different flavors will also be key to avoiding boredom and overeating. Learn how to keep the carbs you do well with in the house, and keep everything else out.