I cannot tell you how many times I have heared someone say "I am giving up carbohydrates." If we are being scientifically correct your body needs carbohydrates to survive. In fact, your brain's main source of fuel is carbohydrates. Therefore, you cannot "give up carbohydrates" completely and it's more than likely that you are still eating carbohydrates day to day. I know most people mean bread, pasta, chips, crackers, cookies, etc. when referring to the "dreaded carbohydrates." Or at least from my experience that is what it typically means. One time a friend told me he gave up carbohydrates and I looked down at his lunch. It was a salad with a whole variety of fruit and vegetables and a side of cottage cheese. I looked at him and said, "You're eating carbohydrates for lunch." And hence here I am to let you know that if you say you are giving up carbohydrates, it's likely that you aren't really giving up all carbohydrates.
Let's get down to the basics, first. What counts as a carbohydrate?
The common answer and misconception is:
- Grains (bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, barley, crackers, pretzels, etc.)
- Sweets (cookies, cakes, candy, etc.)
BUT carbohydrates are also found in:
- Fruit (dried, whole, juice, etc.)
- Dairy (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.)
And therefore...Not all carbohydrates are created equal.
Even if you say that you are giving up carbohydrates and what you really mean is grains or sweets, it's still vital for me to say that not all grains are created equal.
Whole grains are nutritional powerhouses. Take the bread I recently bought. No, it's not whole wheat. Your grains do not have to be whole wheat all the time. The recommendation is whole wheat 50% of the time. If you want to go crazy, choose whole wheat 51% of the time. Go ahead, tip the scale. Anyways, this bread is about 50% whole wheat flour and it's baked with millet, cornmeal, and oats. Right up this girls' alley.
If you love bread like I do, eat bread. If you love pasta, eat pasta. If you love freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, eat chocolate chip cookies. Balance is about choosing the foods you love and savoring them. I don't eat bread every day. I usually freeze it and have it a few slices at a time, some weeks more frequently than others. When I have really great toast it's a good day. I also love chocolate chip cookies. I've realized I enjoy them best when homemade and right out of the oven. Therefore, I will save store bought chocolate chip cookies for everyone else because they don't do it for me the same way fresh ones do. My gramma made the best chocolate chip cookies and so I save my craving for the homemade ones hoping they will live up to hers.
When you deprive yourself of foods you love, like bread, you are that much more likely to crave it. To want it every day. To not be able to stop thinking about it. And consequently overindulge. Therefore, enjoy the foods you love. Savor them. Choose more nutritious versions most of the time, but also live a little. I choose whole wheat most of the time, but certainly not all of the time. I keep bread around because I like it. I value the taste and the texture. I value the memories it triggers. I also value the fiber, the vitamins and minerals, and certainly the carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are not the enemy. They're actually what makes your body work properly. Even the foods that carbohydrates that are commonly dreaded or feared have something to offer your body, nutrients that your body needs. So maybe you gave up grains or you gave up sweets. If you feel better and it works for you then great. Just remember to keep getting some carbohydrates from dairy, and fruit. On the other hand, if you find yourself craving the things that you've "given up" it may be helpful to meet with a dietitian to understand how you can enjoy the foods that you love in moderation, in a way that works for your physical and mental health. Because remember, food is about so much more than the calories it provides.