Confused About Carbs?
THE LOW CARB CRAZE
Trendy in the dieting world currently means low carbohydrate. You can't walk the aisles of a grocery store, turn on the television, or pick up a magazine without seeing something about carbs. The best-selling diets out now, some of which include the Atkins Diet, The South Beach Diet, and The Zone, exclude carbs almost entirely or limit certain types of carbs. And, more and more restaurants and fast food chains are now offering carb-conscious menus.
THE LOW CARB LOWDOWN
Despite the popularity of these diets, many health and nutrition experts question the nutritional quality and one's ability to follow these diets after an extended period of time.
Most people will lose weight initially on too-restrictive diets, but after they begin to incorporate some of the foods they have been avoiding, they tend to re-gain the weight (plus more sometimes). A more sensible approach that moderately limits (not excludes) carbs increases your chances of getting all your nutrients and keeping the weight you lose off for good.
Carbs have gotten a bad wrap, but the bottom line is that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates are found in most foods, with the exception of meats, fats, and oils. That’s why it can be hard to follow such an extremely low-carb diet for an extended period. However, a moderate carb diet that consists of whole grains instead of refined grains is an effective way to lose weight and still get all the nutrition you need.
If you’ve decided to watch your carb intake, you should know the difference between refined (“bad”) and unrefined (“good”) carbohydrates.
NOT ALL CARBS CREATED EQUAL
- Refined Carbohydrates (simple carbs, processed)
Unrefined Carbohydrates (whole grains, complex carbs, unprocessed)
- Get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, causing an almost immediate spike in the blood sugar and insulin production which can make you hungry
- Contain few vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals
- Contain little to no fiber
- Generally found in white rice, bread, and pasta; certain cereals, and sugary foods like candy
- Unlike refined or simple carbs, whole grains need to be broken down before they can be absorbed. This breaking down process avoids a spike in your blood sugar and insulin production
- Contain many nutrients that have been shown to be protective against chronic diseases like cancer
- Good source of fiber
- Generally found in fruit and vegetables, oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, whole-grain bread and any whole grains, such as brown rice, couscous and bulgur
NOT ALL FATS ARE CREATED EQUAL
If you are going low-carb, it’s especially important to pay close attention to the types of fats you are eating since some low carb diets allow high amounts of saturated fat. Be smart about the types of low carbohydrate foods you choose— for example, both bacon and poultry have approximately zero grams of carbohydrates, but a piece of baked chicken has approximately 6 less grams of fat and 50 fewer calories than a serving of bacon. Like carbs, there are several kinds of fat and they work differently in the body.
Types of fats:
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats: Both of these unsaturated fats lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and raise HDL “good” cholesterol when they replace saturated fats in the diet. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that mono- and polyunsaturated fat sources should replace saturated fats in the diet. Pecans contain approximately 60 percent monounsaturated fat and 30 percent polyunsaturated fat for a total of 90 percent heart-healthy fat!
Saturated fat: Raises blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat. Saturated fat clogs the arteries, narrowing the blood flow through the vessels. In addition, saturated fat increases LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of developing heart disease. Reducing saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories will help you lower your blood cholesterol level.
Trans fat or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils: Formed during the process of transforming a liquid into a solid. Trans fats may raise LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
WHERE PECANS FIT
Pecans are a high protein, low-carbohydrate heart-healthy food. Therefore, pecans are the perfect meat substitution, snack, or addition to a lower-carb, nutrient-dense diet.
Research suggests that incorporating 1.5 ounces of nuts like pecans in your diet can reduce risk of heart disease. If you're looking to incorporate the recommended 1.5 ounces, when you think pecans, think “substitution.” In place of cheese on your salad, sprinkle pecans. Instead of frying meat, use pecans as a coating. In place of the meat in a casserole or main entrée, try pecans!
HOW TO EAT LOW CARB SMART AND SAFE
- Limit "refined" carbs -- they provide little to no nutrients, fiber, and cause you to feel hungrier more quickly.
- Get your whole grains -- Not only do they provide nutrients and fiber, they will keep you full for longer periods of time
- Embrace healthy fat, limit saturated fat -- Even though some foods are low in carbs, they can still be extremely high in saturated fat. Some low-carb diets allow unlimited amounts of high saturated fat foods like fatty meats, butter, cream cheese, creamy dressings and oil. Choose foods that fit into a lower carb lifestyle that contain healthy fats like pecans.
- Practice portion control -- Restricting carbs in your diet can be very limiting; therefore, you may feel like eating larger portions to fill up. A diet that has a more moderate amount of carbs will allow you more variety, so you can avoid eating too much of any certain food.
- Get your vitamins -- Many very restrictive low-carb diets severely lack vital vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C, D and E, potassium, thiamin, and magnesium to name a few. If you are severely limiting an entire nutrient, like carbohydrates, it is essential that you talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin. If you include whole grain carbohydrates into your diet, you should get enough vitamins and minerals. It’s important to choose lower carb foods that still provide you with the nutrients you need. Pecans are a great example of this—a handful contains over 19 vitamins and minerals for only 4 grams of carbohydrates.
BACK TO BASICS
Whatever your diet consists of, it should be healthful, safe, tasty, effective and one that you can live with. If you've decided to go low carb, do so in moderation. Any diet that is too restrictive will set you up for failure in the future. The goal of any healthy eating and weight maintenance plan should be one that you can incorporate into your lifestyle for the long term.
The National Pecan Shellers Association (NPSA), a non-profit trade association, is committed to educating culinary and health professionals, food technologists and the general public about the nutritional benefits, variety of uses and all-around great taste of pecans.
Copyright © 2004 National Pecan Shellers Association