Recent headlines suggesting that low-carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets in promoting weight loss have sparked a renewed interest in giving up everything from carrots to cupcakes. I’ve been flooded with inquiries asking if carbohydrates are bad for us. Emphatically, I say no, quite the contrary. Carbohydrates, like protein and fat, are essential for life. In fact, our bodies convert carbs to glucose and glucose is the preferred source of fuel for our cells and the primary source of energy for our brains.
Like the other macronutrients, carbohydrates take many forms that span the nutritional spectrum. Some are among the most nutritious foods available – fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils and whole intact grains. Cutting these “good” carbs from our diet is not the key to controlling our weight. Others come in the form of highly processed, refined products, such as most breads, pastas, crackers, cereals, baked goods, granola bars, candy, fruited yogurts, chips, ice cream and sugary drinks. These are the “bad” carbs to eliminate.
In general, Americans eat too much of the wrong types of carbohydrates, which are often high in added sugar, fat and calories. Instead of cutting carbs indiscriminately, use the information below to assess your intake and make the necessary adjustments to your diet — see if your energy and weight loss efforts don’t improve.
Re-balance your macro-nutrients: Our nutritional needs change after menopause. Because we need fewer calories, more protein, and less energy producing carbohydrates, I recommend eating roughly 40-50% of your calories from carbs, 30-40% from healthy fat and 20-25% from protein.
Fill up on the “good” stuff: Veggies rule, fruit is nature’s dessert, and I prefer fibrous legumes to grains. Each day, eat 6-10 servings of non-starchy veggies, 1-2 medium size pieces of fruit (or a cup of berries or fruit salad) and, depending on your level of activity, 1-3 servings of beans, lentils or minimally processed grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta or 100% whole grain bread. A serving size is roughly 2 cups of lettuce or greens, ½ cup of chopped fruit, cooked vegetables, grains, or legumes, 1 cup of raw veggies or 1 slice of bread.
Avoid empty calories: To maintain or lose weight, stabilize your energy, and reduce your risk of chronic disease, you need to significantly reduce refined carbohydrates from your diet. Does this mean you can’t have a piece of cake, a slice of pizza, or a few cheese and crackers occasionally? No, simply make these choices the exception not the rule.
Eat lean protein at each meal: Most of us need between 20-30 grams of protein at each meal and roughly 10-15 grams of protein for snack. Good lean sources include beans, tempeh, tofu, low or no-fat unsweetened dairy, eggs, fish, seafood, poultry and grass-fed meats.
Don’t fear fat: We need it! Include a little healthy fat at each meal to keep your metabolism humming and your taste buds satisfied. Best sources: ¼ avocado, 2TBSP nuts or seeds or 1TBSP unsweetened nut butters or olive and other plant oils.
The bottom line: Carbohydrates aren’t the culprits. Don’t cut them out of your diet completely, but be selective and avoid processed foods whenever possible. It’s OK to enjoy a banana and a slice of whole grain bread with a little nut butter, but the walnut banana bread from your favorite coffee shop – not so much.
This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.