What Are Smart Carbs?
Build a solid foundation of smart carb choices, one step at a time
There are many types of carbohydrates.
“Carbs” aren’t just one thing.
(They’re definitely not just one thing that’s “bad”.)
Higher-carbohydrate foods include a spectrum of varieties from simple sugars to complex starches to fiber.
“Smart carbs” are carbohydrates that are higher in fiber and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. They add value to your body, and improve your health, digestion, waistline, and performance.
“Smart carbs” include:
- fruit (fresh or frozen)
- starchy tubers such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, yuca/cassava, taro/tapioca, etc.
- other starchy fruits and veggies, such as plantains or sweet winter squashes (e.g. Hubbard, butternut, buttercup, kabocha)
- whole, minimally-processed grains (such as quinoa, brown or wild rice, slow-cooking oats, buckwheat, sprouted grains, etc.)
- beans and legumes
Not so smart: Refined carbs
Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, are low in fiber and nutrients.
You’re less likely to feel full, pleasantly satisfied, nor well-nourished when you eat a lot of these. You’re more likely to feel stagnant, low energy or spikes and crashes. They’re also more likely to get you hooked on craving, wanting MOAR.
Refined carbs include foods like:
- pastries, such as cakes, cupcakes, and muffins
- cookies and bars, including almost all packaged snacks, even if they’re marked as “healthy” nutrition bars
- sweetened cereals, including granola
- sweets, like candies, chocolate, etc.
- sweet drinks, like fruit juices, soda, and other sweetened drinks (including sports drinks)
- sweetened dried fruits, like raisins, dried cranberries, banana chips, dried dates or figs, etc.
- . . . and pretty much anything that’s processed, and comes in a bottle, bag, box, or takeout container.
To feel best, save these foods for special occasions, like dessert after a fancy restaurant meal, or a slice of cake on your birthday. Then, eat them slowly and enjoy the indulgence.
To keep it simple …
More fiber and nutrients + whole foods = more value. Smart.
Less fiber and fewer nutrients + processing = less value. Not so smart.
Always look to add more value to your diet.
Carbohydrates are on a continuum.
Think about how to make your carb choices just a little bit more nourishing.
Instead of “good” or “bad”, ask yourself how you can make your carbohydrate choices just a little bit better (or smarter).
- Could you grab some fruit instead of a candy bar?
- Choose whole-wheat bread instead of white?
When in doubt, ask: Do these carbs add value to my body?
If the answer is “yes”, it’s a smarter choice for you.
Notice how your body feels after making particular carb choices.
Full of energy? Crashing after an hour? Satisfied? Crave-y? Could eat the entire refrigerator and punch someone out on the way there? Etc.
Small steps are the path to change. Keep it simple and make choices that work for you. One day at a time. One meal at a time.
What if I’m addicted to carbs?
If you think you may be “addicted” to carbohydrates, or afraid to eat them, in could be helpful to know:
What’s more likely to get people “hooked” on a craving is the psychological food reward of hyperpalatable food combinations, rather than the carb itself. The food reward is a complex storm of mental and emotional feelings associated with trigger foods and certain circumstances and environments. Those trigger foods are more often hyperpalatable and emotionally-charged, with interesting combos of tastes, textures, colors.
Some common examples are pastries, candy, chips, sweetened drinks, or noodles slathered in sauce.
Experiment: Testing the craving.
You can use this experiment to sort-out the variables, and get closer to understanding the root cause of cravings.
The test question: Are you responding more to a psychological food reward (e.g., an emotional trigger)? Or to the carbohydrate nutrients themselves?
Step 1: Cook up a batch of minimally processed, higher-fiber carbohydrates, such as potatoes or sweet potatoes, oats, brown rice, beans or lentils, etc.
IMPORTANT: Don’t flavor them.
Keep them plain — no sauce, no oil or butter, no salt, no sweetener, or anything else.
Use minimally processed higher-fiber carbohydrates, not processed ones (such as bread, pasta, or white rice).
Step 2: Eat as much as you like of the plain unflavored carbohydrates at every meal.
Step 3: Take notes on what happens and how you feel. Notice whether you want to keep eating more and more, or whether you find yourself able to stop. This observation will give an important clue to the source of intense cravings.
Step 4: Chat about this experiment with your coach, if you like. Sharing your findings may help you both work towards a carbohydrate plan that truly suits you.
Write In Your Journal
Think about how you could move along the “carb continuum” towards higher-fiber, nutrient-dense, nourishing carbs today.