The Harsh Truth: To Lose Weight You Might Have to Cut Carbs

Don’t shun starchy veggies like corn and peas!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the harsh truth is, if you want to lose weight you may want to consider reducing your intake of carbs while adding in healthy carbs that are low energy dense. You may already be doing this by avoiding high-sugar soft drinks and candy – but have you considered cutting back on grains?

Generally, we Americans eat too many grains. Yes, grains are low-fat but their low water content makes them more energy dense than many other carbohydrate-based foods. Not to mention the fact that we’ve been programmed by society and physiology to eat large portions of grains. Our perception of portion sizes of grains is skewed. Rather than the 1 oz. portion size equivalents recommended by the USDA, we perceive 4-oz. bagels, 12-inch tortillas and 3-cup servings of pasta as single “portions.” Plus, large portions of refined grains are typically void of fiber and quality protein, which won’t satisfy your hunger but will pack in the calories. And contrary to popular belief, swapping refined grains with whole grains does little to lower the energy density of a diet, which we know can lead to successful weight loss. In order to lose weight without feeling deprived, maybe it’s time you cut back rather than cut out your carb intake by eating fewer high energy dense and more low energy dense healthy carbs. Here’s how:

  1. Forget the “5-a-day” serving and aim for higher! Most vegetables have less than 50 calories per cup. Compare that to an average of 200 calories you get from a cup of rice or pasta and you can see where replacing some or all of your starchy grains with low energy dense veggies can help you cut calories.
  2. Don’t shun starchy veggies like corn, peas, most winter squash, white potatoes , sweet potatoes or beans in favor of grains. Starchy vegetables are often less energy dense than grains, and beans provide lots of fiber and protein to help control hunger. We also tend to practice better portion control with starchy veggies because they’re less susceptible to super-sizing than pasta or rice. Plus there’s less room for error as it’s easier to eyeball ½ of a medium potato than ½ cup of pasta.
  3. Sweeten things up with apples, pears, berries, grapefruit and other low energy dense fruit. Their high water and fiber content keeps them low in calories and high in nutrients. Pair fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit with protein-rich Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese or a small portion of nuts for a satisfying light breakfast or snack. Replace high-sugar, energy dense candy, sundae toppings or smoothie ingredients with fruit. You can satisfy taste cravings by pairing small servings of high calorie foods like peanut butter, chocolate or cheese with sliced fruit to keep total portion size reasonable and prolong the eating enjoyment.
  4. Include high energy dense, high-carb foods as an ingredient in low energy dense meals. Rather than chicken noodle casserole, serve chicken noodle soup. Add a few tablespoons of cold cooked whole wheat pasta, brown rice or barley to a large salad or veggie-loaded stir fry. Try replacing some or all of your pasta with vegetables for a lower calorie comfort food (like this zucchini eggplant pasta).
  5. Choose smaller portions of grains and other energy dense starches. Opt for a regular size whole grain English muffin over a bagel, purchase 100-calorie or “light” sandwich buns and wraps, cut your potato in half, and don’t double up on starches so order your beans without the rice.
  6. Replace unsatisfying starchy snack foods like pretzels, corn chips or crackers with high volume air-popped or light microwaved popcorn, which has been shown to help people feel fuller for fewer calories.

By following some or all of these tips you can cut calories in your diet and still get the healthy carbs your body needs for steady energy. Good luck and let us know if these strategies work for you!

Jeannemarie Beiseigel, PhD, RD, is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in human nutrition, foods, and exercise. She’s worked with academia, government and industry and has several published research studies. She recently started her own practice as independent nutrition consultant for businesses and individuals. You can e-mail Jeannemarie at Read Jeannemarie's full bio.

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