Most of us have been taught over the years that carbs are evil and should be avoided at all costs, lest we completely sabotage all the hard work we did to get into that bikini. The truth is, not all carbs have the same effect, and healthy eating with carbs is doable and cutting them out of your diet could actually be a bad thing.
It all comes down to sugars and what type of carbohydrate you’re consuming. Lactose (sugar found in milk), fructose (sugar found in fruit), and refined grains such as white rice do provide a measure of energy, but only for a little while. They don’t give the body enough fuel to amount to much, so unless you’re eating these with a source of protein, they become what is known as empty carbs/calories. However, they do have other benefits, such as fiber and certain nutrients, so don’t cut them out of your diet completely; just use them wisely and sparingly. Eating too much refined sugar can lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar because it gets processed by the body so quickly, which can make you feel like you need to eat again immediately and can hamper your success if you’re trying to lose weight.
If you have a good exercise regimen–and you should–it’s important to remember that carbs provide energy. Whole grains are a great way to build up energy for a workout.
“They’re our primary energy source during exercise, and we can’t get to the same level of intensity if we’re carb depleted,” says Dr. Kelly Pritchett, a dietician.
Outside of carbs, your diet should have plenty of protein, too. The best way to pack it in is with tuna, salmon, almonds, eggs, lean turkey or chicken breast, and pretty much any kind of bean. It can be difficult to stick to a particular diet if you are a picky eater and get tired of the same things, but it can also be overwhelming to try and work out a meal plan that includes all the vitamins, nutrients, proteins, and carbs you need. You can find a sample menu here, but keep in mind that everybody is different and has different needs.
Eating a breakfast that is high in protein is one of the best ways to start your day; it will give you the energy and brainpower you need to get through the morning. Avoid sugars and starchy, heavy foods at lunchtime, and keep small, healthy snacks handy. Not only does this keep your metabolism up, it also keeps your blood sugar from dropping suddenly, which makes you feel like you’re starving. This can quickly lead to a stop at the drive thru.
Obviously sodas are loaded with empty calories, but fruit juice can be tricky as well. Many people assume that because it’s fruit, it’s good for you; not so, as many of them contain sugar just like soda does.
For dinner, opt for grilled chicken, fish, or pork instead of red meat and add lots of dark, leafy greens. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of snacks before bedtime; instead, have a glass of water, which will not only hydrate you, it will fill you up.
Remember, it’s okay to have a “cheat” day. Allowing yourself to have a little bit of your favorite dessert or Italian bread is not only acceptable, it’s necessary for many people to be successful with a diet plan. Cutting out favorite foods completely is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll backslide, so do yourself a favor and have a few bites. Just remember that moderation is key.
Paige Johnson is a self-described fitness “nerd.” She possesses a love for strength training. In addition to weight-lifting, she is a yoga enthusiast, avid cyclist, and loves exploring hiking trails with her dogs. She enjoys writing about health and fitness for LearnFit.org.
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