Carbs have gotten a bad rap for way too long.
When we eat carbs, they break down to glucose (a sugar) which (under normal metabolic conditions) is our body's primary fuel. We then store the glucose in the form on glycogen in our muscles and liver, which we draw from in the hours following the meal, to keep our blood sugar levels stable.
Carbs don't 'turn to fat' except under conditions of extremely high consumption (1).
There is nothing about carbs that makes them inherently fattening - in my clinical experience, it's usually what is eaten with the carbs (which isn't burnt off) that is the problem!
If you have excess weight that you'd like to lose, fill your plate with lots of veggies and legumes, and add a small portion of good quality carbs to match your energy needs. For a woman who is a sedentary (i.e. sitting down at work all day), a good visual guide for woman is a portion roughlythe size of a fist (which would be 1 medium potato, or 1/2 cup cooked grains). Eating this way will help to re-wire your appetite and allow to you to eat in accordance with your body's natural hunger and fullness signals, without ever needing to count calories.
How to choose good quality carbs
1: Choose foods which have been subjected to little or no processing:
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, freekah, farro, millet, amaranth, steel-cut oats, barley, buckwheat
- Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Whole fruits, such as bananas and berries
- Breads such as pumpernickel (made from whole rye grains) and sprouted bread (made from sprouted whole grains)
- Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, black beans, green peas and cannellini beans
The following are a little more processed but are still excellent choices:
- Rolled oats
- Whole grain breads
- Whole grain pasta
- Cereals such as Weet-Bix
The not-so-good choices*:
- White rice, bread and pasta - the outer bran and germ layer has been removed, so you miss out on nutrients such as vitamin E, B vitamins, minerals (such as zinc, iron and magnesium) and dietary fibre
- Processed breakfast cereals such as Special K
- Rice cakes and rice crackers
*I've listed these as 'not-so-good', rather than 'bad' as sometimes life gets in the way of making choices that support 'optimal' nutrition, and that's okay! If you're out at a nice restaurant and there aren't any healthy options, just do the best you can in that situation. Food is about so much more than the physical act of eating - I would argue that every now and again, good conversation with family and friends is more important and nourishing than what's on your plate.
1. Acheson KJ, Schutz Y, Bessard T, Anantharaman K, Flatt JP, Jéquier E. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Aug 1;48(2):240–7.