Indulging in the Sweet Side: Navigating Carbs

Published on: 02/13/2024
Wall of sweet donuts
It’s Valentine’s Day, so sweets are on the radar. But did you give them up for the new year and now you’re feeling hangry? Or are you just lost in the dietary trend maze? Don’t worry; I’ve got your back! 

Low-carb diets have been touted as the holy grail of weight loss by some, while others caution against their potential impact on heart health. So, what’s the deal with carbs? Well, let’s break it down. Low-carb diets can indeed be effective for weight loss and managing blood sugar levels, often outperforming their low-fat counterparts (1). But before you swear off carbs entirely, let’s delve into the nuances. Should you indulge in that sweet side daily, occasionally, or not at all? Fear not, I’m here to guide you through the maze of macronutrients – carbs, protein, and fat – to help you navigate what works best for your body. So, let’s navigate carbs together, and let’s separate fact from fiction!

What are “carbs” (and are they bad)?
Well, let me set the record straight – carbs aren’t the villains they’re often made out to be (cue dramatic music). Carb, short for carbohydrate, is one of the three main macronutrients in our diets (2). Think of them as the big players, alongside protein and fat. They’re like the tech crew for your favorite band – essential for giving us the energy we need to rock our daily lives. 

But just like any Grammy-winning band, carbs can be found in both Madison Square Garden-quality foods packed with essential vitamins and minerals, as well as in those B-list snacks that don’t quite ever make their way out of the bar scene (3). It is best to get most of your carbohydrates from whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables rather than refined grains. After all, whole foods not only bring the carbs but also deliver an impressive lineup of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the nutrition party (4). And like other macronutrients, carbs come with their ticket to the calorie show. So, indulging in too many carb-loaded treats without their nutrient sidekicks? That might just add a few long intermissions to your daily calorie count (and not the ones you want).

The effect of different carbs on your health
Carbs come in three different shapes and sizes:

  • Sugars (found in juices, dairy, sodas, desserts, etc.) are the smallest and are the main type of “fuel” used by your body for energy
  • Starches (found in potatoes, grains, legumes, etc.) are broken down into sugars which then go on to be used for energy
  • Fiber (found in legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, etc.) provides bulk that helps us feel full and feeds our friendly gut microbes

 

Let’s break down these rock stars of the carb world – sugars, starches, and fibers, one by one. First up, sugars. They’re like those quick one-hit wonders at a rock concert – they hit you fast and hard, causing a spike in your blood sugar level that leaves you somewhat woozy. Plus, they’re usually found hanging out in the VIP section of highly processed, less-than-nutritious foods. And then there is the after-party drama because indulging in too many sugars can land you with a backstage pass to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even some pesky dental cavities (6,7,8).

Now, let’s groove to the beat of starches. These guys take their time on stage, breaking down into sugars at a slower pace, giving you a mellower, longer-lasting effect on your blood sugar levels. It’s like they’re playing a smooth jazz set instead of a high-energy rock anthem – still satisfying, but without the sudden crash and burn.

And last but not least, let’s give it up for fibers – the unsung heroes of the carb crew. They may not get top billing, but they play a crucial role in keeping things running smoothly. Fibers are like the roadies behind the scenes, not getting digested themselves but making sure you feel full and keeping your gut bacteria happy. People who rock out with a lot of fiber in their diet have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and digestive issues (8). So, let’s raise our fiber-filled snacks and toast to good gut health!

Possible benefits of low-carb diets
Ah, the low-carb diet – it’s like the trendy new band everyone’s buzzing about. Sure, it may have a slight edge when it comes to weight loss, like snagging that front-row ticket at a concert. But here’s the kicker: after 12 months, the benefits might not be as mind-blowing as you’d hoped. It’s like the good encore, but not quite worth waiting for (3,5,6).

But fear not, as the perks of going low-carb aren’t just limited to shedding a few pounds. Low-carb diets can be a game-changer for folks managing diabetes, prediabetes, high blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, and even heart disease. And hey, they might even help fine-tune your cholesterol and blood lipids, too (6,7,8). But here’s the plot twist – it’s not just about cutting carbs; it’s about the quality of the food choices you’re making and maybe shedding a few pounds along the way (5). So, consider it a win-win situation – rocking out with delicious, nutritious eats while reaping those health benefits.

So, you’re curious about navigating carbs, but what is a low-carb diet? 
Low-carb diets place a spotlight on increasing your intake of the other two macronutrients: protein and fat. This means incorporating more meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and nonstarchy vegetables into your meals. However, it’s important to note that while carb-rich foods are reduced, they’re not eliminated. This means cutting back on sweets, grains like bread and pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes, but not completely kicking them to the curb.

Now, how low can we go? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here – it varies from person to person. But typically, a low-carb diet would include around 50-150 grams of carbs per day. Compare that to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend a whopping 225 grams per day (7,8).

Talk about a revolution! (#tracychapmanlukecombs)

But before you hop on the low-carb bandwagon, let’s pause for a moment and consider if it’s the right fit for you. Sure, studies show that low-carb diets can help with weight loss – at least in the short term (6). But finding the right fit for you and your body takes some experimentation.

Is a low-carb diet right for me?
Cutting out major food groups like carbs can leave you missing out on key vitamins and minerals. Plus, too few carbs can lead to headaches, fatigue, and changes in metabolism. Ever skip carbs and end up ravenous for snacks? Been there!
​#eathealthycarbsforhealthyliving Long-term, this can cause deficiencies and concerns like bone loss, gut issues, and chronic diseases (9).

So, before diving into the low-carb craze, consider if it’s right for you. And if you need guidance, I’m here to help. Let’s rock this journey to healthier living together! But remember, most low-carb research is short-term, so long-term effects aren’t fully known. Overdoing animal foods might increase your risk of heart disease and certain cancers (6,9).

Nutrition tips for low-carb diets

  • Remember, there are healthy and not-so-healthy low-carb foods. When replacing carbs with proteins and fats, be sure to choose ones that have quality proteins and fats and a lot of essential vitamins and minerals (8).
  • As for proteins, it’s best to get them from poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, and beans, and less from red meats like steak and beef. Intake of protein, especially from plants, in middle age is associated with higher odds of healthy aging (10). More to come on this topic next month!
  • When it comes to fats, focus on foods rich in omega-3s and unsaturated fats and choose fewer fats that are saturated and hydrogenated.

 
If you restrict carbs too much you can change your body’s metabolism and put it into ketosis (a metabolic state that occurs when your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose). This is because your body uses sugar as its main energy source, so when you don’t get a minimum amount of carbs, your body’s metabolism changes to start using fat as its energy source.
 
If you end up craving carbs more often (because who does not crave carbs?!), experiencing gut issues or other bothersome symptoms, or simply don’t enjoy eating anymore, a low-carb diet may not be the best one for you.
 
In Conclusion, Navigating Carbs Can Include The Sweet Side
According to Harvard Health, “The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle. People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box).” …most of the time! 

Valentine’s Day❤️ is the perfect excuse to indulge a little sweet.🍫 All foods fit into life’s grand feast, and while some may fit better than others, obsessing and restricting your favorite treats can crash the party and steal your joy faster than you can say “conversation hearts.” So, while it’s crucial to care about what’s fueling your body, let’s tune into our meals, sans the drama. Let’s keep the vibe groovy, the flavors electric, and the enjoyment levels soaring!

Changing your diet to reach health goals is something I specialize in. If you’re considering starting a low-carb diet, book an appointment with me to see if my services can help you.

Introducing some delightful recipes that are not only lower in carbs but also packed with high protein and fiber goodness! Whether you’re looking for a snack or appetizer, a satisfying dinner, or a sweet treat for pre- or post-workout fuel, these recipes have got you covered. So, let’s dive in and indulge guilt-free! ❤️Happy Valentine’s Day!❤️

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CRISPY CHICKPEAS
Let’s give some love to the chicks! It is Valentine’s Day, right😉?! These little powerhouses are packed with fiber, protein, and healthy fats. This groovy combination means they can help keep your blood sugar in check, aid in weight management, and support both heart and gut health. Plus, they’re super versatile! You can toss them into all sorts of savory or sweet dishes, from salads to desserts. So, why not whip up something delicious and nutritious with chickpeas today? Your taste buds and your body will thank you!

INGREDIENTS
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and well-rinsed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION
Place the well-rinsed chickpeas on a double layer of paper towels. Gently roll to help dry the chickpeas as much as possible. 
Add the olive oil to a medium-sized nonstick skillet and place over medium heat. Add the chickpeas to the pan and cook for approximately 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Chickpeas should be golden brown and crispy on all sides.
Place chickpeas in a medium serving bowl. Toss gently with Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. To save for later, place chickpeas in a parchment paper-lined sealable container. Store for up to one week. Makes 6 ½-cup servings.

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❤️ONE-LOVE CHICKEN PARMESAN PASTA❤️
One Love represents the new Bob Marley movie being released today, on Valentine’s Day! 🇯🇲❤️And the one-love reference for this pasta dish is that it is all made in one dish, so you can treat yourself to a quick cleanup❤️, possibly leave time to catch the new flick and enjoy a delicious hearty meal with those you love.❤️ It balances lean protein from the chicken and cheeses, with whole grains from the whole wheat panko bread crumbs and whole wheat pasta. If chicken is not your thing, tofu works well here too.

INGREDIENTS
Extra virgin olive oil spray (my favorite brand: California Olive Ranch)
1 teaspoon + 1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
¼ cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 pound boneless, skinless, thin-sliced chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ teaspoon each of dried basil, dried oregano, dried rosemary, and dried thyme
2 ½ cups vegetable broth, low sodium
28-ounce can diced tomatoes, low sodium
8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
½ cup mozzarella cheese, reduced fat, shredded
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped fresh herb(s): parsley, basil, oregano, thyme

PREPARATION
Place chicken pieces into a medium bowl and set aside.
Place a large iron skillet over medium-high heat. Spray evenly with olive oil spray. Add the teaspoon of garlic and cook for one minute. Add the panko bread crumbs and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes, while stirring. Place bread crumb and garlic mixture into a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel to remove any remaining bread crumbs.

Place skillet back over medium-high heat and spray evenly with olive oil spray. Add the remaining one tablespoon of minced garlic. While garlic is cooking, mix dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme in a small bowl. Add to chicken and stir well to coat. Place chicken in the pan with garlic and stir together. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is lightly browned. Add the broth, tomatoes, and pasta to the skillet. Bring to a boil and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente and sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes.

While cooking, place the oven rack second setting from the top and preheat the oven broiler to high. Once the pasta is cooked through, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Place the skillet on the prepared oven rack and broil until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned, about one minute. Carefully remove from the oven. Sprinkle with panko and garlic mixture, Parmesan cheese, and any fresh herbs of choice. Makes 4 servings.

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PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY ENERGY BITES
These tasty treats are perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth or providing a boost of energy as a pre or post-workout snack. Packed with wholesome ingredients and bursting with flavor, these little bites are sure to become your new favorite guilt-free indulgence. So, let’s whip up a batch and enjoy the deliciousness!

INGREDIENTS
⅓ cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup oats (old fashioned works great or gluten-free if preferred)
3 Tablespoons chia seeds
2 Tablespoons natural preserves (strawberry, grape, or raspberry)
⅔ cup peanut butter, natural, chunky
1 scoop chocolate protein powder

PREPARATION
Measure all ingredients. Crush dark chocolate with a masher in a sealed bag or a food processor, until crumbled.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. With clean hands :), scoop teaspoon-size spoonfuls, roll smoothly with the palms of your hand, and place onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a plate or in a container. 
Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to one week.  Makes 10 servings (1 serving = 2 balls) for a pre- or post-workout snack or 20 servings for just that bite of something sweet!
Nutrition Facts per ball: 
100 calories, 6 g total fat, 8.5 g total carbohydrate (which includes 2 g fiber, 3.5 g total sugar), 4 g protein

REFERENCES:
 

  1. Examine. (2018, February 20). Does “low-carb” have an official definition? 
    https://examine.com/articles/low-fat-vs-low-carb-for-weight-loss/
  2. Harvard Health. (2018, April 9). Which diet is best for long-term weight loss? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/weight-loss-for-life-the-dietfits-study-2018040913595 
  3. Harvard Health. (2018, November). Both high-carb and low-carb diets may be harmful to health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/both-high-carb-and-low-carb-diets-may-be-harmful-to-health 
  4. Harvard Health. (n.d.). Low fat, low carb, or Mediterranean: which diet is right for you? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/low-fat-low-carb-or-mediterranean-which-diet-is-right-for-you 
  5. Harvard Health. (n.d.). Going low-carb? Pick the right proteins. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/going-low-carb-pick-the-right-proteins 
  6. Curr Obes Rep. 2021 Sep; 10(3): 409–422. Benefits of Low Carbohydrate Diets: a Settled Question or Still Controversial
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9621749/
  7. Medline Plus. (2018, January). Carbohydrates. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002469.htm 
  8. StatPearls [Internet]. (2019). Physiology, Carbohydrates. Retrieved from
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/
  9. Nutrients. 2021 May; 13(5): 1654. The Potential Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet: A Narrative Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8153354/
  10. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2024, January)  Dietary protein intake in midlife in relation to healthy aging – results from the prospective Nurses’ Health Study cohort https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.11.010
For comments, thoughts, consultations, requests, or anything else you feel the need to share, please do: amy@rebelliousrd.com or visit me at rebelliousrd.com.

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With a longstanding dedication to healthy cooking and eating, I promote nutrition with a rebellious twist: the belief that perfection is not required for success on your wellness journey. 

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