Carbs! When you see that word, do you feel scared? Guilty? Overwhelmed?
Although carbohydrates have been on an image-rehab campaign longer than Lindsay Lohan's — now we know that there are good carbs and bad carbs, and the low-carb bandwagon has been sold for scrap — myths remain, and old habits die hard. If you've bought into too many of them, you're seriously stifling your weight-loss progress.
First of all, carbs are energy. You need them to survive. The USDA recommends that adults get 130 grams of carbs daily. To make sure you're getting yours from the right sources, and for the right reasons, we consulted studies and diet experts to find out the worst carb habits to fall into, and what to do instead.
1. You go low-carb
The Paleo diet is looking more and more like Neanderthal thinking. Spanish researchers found that eating a low-carb, high-protein diet can actually cause weight gain in the long term. Their findings revealed that those who follow high-protein diets have a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight over time than those who don’t scarf meat. Simply put: You need carbs to burn body fat. They're fuel.
2. You're too refined
White breads, pastas and grains are fossil fuels. They give carbs their bad reputation — simple and refined, they burn up fast, spiking your blood sugar and causing it to crash, leaving you with a craving for — more carbs! For slow-burning, clean sources of energy, choose complex carbs such as whole-grain sprouted breads, grains like brown rice, quinoa and triticale, and cruciferous vegetables and fruits.
3. You fear fat
You have to eat fat to lose fat. Our bodies need dietary fat in order lose weight and function properly. Healthy fats — those with omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and oleic acid — satisfy hunger and rev your metabolism. But when you shun all fat, you end up replacing it with carbs, which are less filling. That'll lead to you consuming more and more calories in search of satiety.
4. You don't eat carbs before workouts
Remember: Carbs are energy. Going into a workout without them is like setting out on a mountain trek with an empty gas tank. Taking in too little carbs will make it near-impossible to crush an intense, calorie-blasting workout.
5. You don't refuel with carbs
Although having a protein shake post sweat session is gospel for a good reason, if you leave it there, you're missing out on gains. You need a dose of carbs to replenish your glycogen stores and kick-start muscle recovery. Among diet experts' recommendations: A glass of 1% chocolate milk, a serving of hummus and pita, or a banana and peanut butter.
6. You eat bagels
According to Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, to be nutritionally worthwhile, eating a bagel must be paired with something else: A two- to three-hour run. Even before you’ve treated it with butter or cream cheese, a bagel could pack 250 to 300 calories and a whopping 50 grams of carbs. That's more than a serving of white-flour pasta! Unlock the power of the carbs in oatmeal for breakfast — and be smart about the fixings.
7. You drink fruit juice
You'll slash carbohydrates from your diet by choosing a fresh apple over an apple muffin, but you won't entirely erase the carb count. Believe it or not, all fruits and vegetables include some carbs. In fact, one apple has 34 grams of carbs—more than you'll find in two slices of whole wheat bread! And because juicing removes the satiating fiber from whole fruits, a cup of fresh fruit juice can do more harm than good. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who consumed one or more servings of fruit juice each day increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21 percent. And a second study in the journal Nature found liquid carbohydrates to be 17 percent less filling compared with solid carbohydrates. As a general rule: Don't drink your fruits.
8. You drink smoothies you don't
Like coffee, the smoothie is a nutritional Trojan Horse — a pretty package that will lay waste to your nutritional goals. Avoid the smoothie bar at the gym or anything you'd find at the mall. All too often, they bury fresh fruit under sugary syrups and juices and can top out at a belt-busting number of carbs. A Hulk Strawberry at Smoothie King has 145 grams — a day-and-a-half's worth! Instead, blend your own smoothies at home. A good rule of thumb is to include two veggies for every fruit, to keep the carb profile in check.
9. You wrap things up
If you think these carb blankets are better for you than bread, you’re not alone — it’s another common misconception. But there are 35 grams of carbs in a 10-inch white tortilla wrap. Take a closer look at the nutrition label, and you’ll find that many varieties are loaded with calories and chemicals like L-cysteine, a “dough conditioner” made from human hair and poultry feathers. Your best bet: Don't fall for these flimsy excuses for bread.
10. You drink beer
Here's the ultimate gut check: Most brewskis have from 10 to more than 20 grams of carbs per 12-ounce glass. Beer is little more than liquid carbs. If you’re going to knock one back, choose a Guinness stout. Despite its dark appearance, it has 20 fewer calories per 12 oz serving than a Bud. And a recent University of Wisconsin study found that moderate consumption of Guinness worked like aspirin to prevent blood clots that increase the risk of heart attacks. That’s because the antioxidants it contains are better than vitamins C and E at keeping bad LDL cholesterol from clogging arteries.
11. You don't buy the right
"Whole grain" breads aren't always what they're cracked up to be. Look closely at the label. Anything with high fructose corn syrup belongs back on the shelf. We love Ezekiel sprouted-grain breads, which increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals.
12. You guzzle "coffee" drinks
Coffee is excellent for health and weight loss: It boosts your metabolism, is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants and reduces the risk of diabetes, colon and liver cancers, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson's disease. But all those health benefits are offset by coffee chains' specialty drinks, whose cream, sugar, flavorings create the same calorie and carb profile as a dessert. Some of those can easily reach 60 to 80 grams of carbs per serving — more than half your daily recommended amount! Stick to black coffee — it's calorie free — and down a few cups before your workout.
13. You drink frozen margaritas
Making a frozen margarita at home isn’t quite as bad as getting it from a bar (400 calories vs 700), but it’s still the worst cocktail for your waistline. Made with a sugar-spiked neon mix and tequila, the summer staple will overload your system with more sugar than you’d find in nine Dunkin’ Donuts Apple n’ Spice Donuts — and up to 84 grams of carbs.
14. You eat too many starchy veggies
While foods like pasta, bread and grains are often demonized for their carb counts, vegetables have their own nutritional divide. They can be split into two categories: starchy and non-starchy. And if you’re eating the starchy ones, you may be gaining more weight than you want. Your starchy veggies—corn, potatoes, green peas and beets—are simply higher in carbohydrates and calories. Meanwhile, non-starchy veggies are lower in carbs (about 5 grams per serving) and lower in calories (generally about 25 per serving).
15. You eat fries
Believe it or not, the potato is an incredibly nutritious vegetable, high in fiber, protein and vitamins. But take off the skin (where many of the nutrients and fiber live), greatly increase the fat-soaking surface area by cutting it into long thin pieces, fry it in oil and boom, you’ve got all carbs, all fat, and little in the way of anything else. Switch to sweet potato fries, like the ones in these 20 Sweet Potato Recipes for Weight Loss. The same-sized portion has a third of the calories, one-third fewer carbs and is significantly higher in fiber.
16. You eat tortilla chips — even the
The classic party food often contains a laundry list of ingredients, and none of them contain many nutrients. “Generally speaking, for most crackers and chips, much of the nutritional value of the grain has been removed during processing — especially when these foods are white rather than whole-wheat, because the husk and outer layers of the grain have been removed,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. That goes for blue corn chips. For a more nutrient-dense alternative that still offers crunch, try air-popped popcorn with your own added herbs and spices, or even crackers made with whole-wheat that have four to five grams of fiber per serving.
17. You eat deep-dish pizza
There's nothing wrong with a few slices of pizza once in a while, but if you're deep into deep-dish pie, you might want to run a cost-benefit analysis. Most of the evils of pizza lie in the empty-calorie, carbohydrate-rich crust. Typically made from refined white flour, pizza dough offers little nutrition and will spike your insulin levels, causing you to crave more. The less crust you indulge in, the better.
18. You eat pancakes
White flour, salt, sugar, butter, eggs, milk. There are too many low-nutrient-density ingredients (and not nearly enough of the eggs and milk) to make pancakes anything other than big ol’ carb-laden disks of empty calories. Adding chocolate chips, syrup or more butter definitely won’t help. Make this dish less empty by replacing white flour and sugar with a mixture of whole-wheat flour, oats, pecans and cinnamon, and you'll lose belly fat. Adding bananas or blueberries as a topping ups vitamin content. If you’re using syrup, opt for 100% pure maple syrup and not the fake stuff derived from high fructose corn syrup.
19. You never break your carb curfew
The dietary boogeyman, nighttime carbs, has a frightening reputation among people trying to lose weight. But there's actually a growing body of research to suggest breaking your "carb curfew" can actually help your diet goals. One study in the journal Obesity put two groups of men on an identical weight loss diet. Half the group ate their carbs throughout the day; the other half ate the majority of the meal plan's carbs in the evening. The result? The nighttime carb eaters lost 27 percent more body fat—and felt 13.7 percent fuller—than those on the standard diet.
20. You drink soda —even diet
Cutting calories and carbs from sugar-spiked soda is a no-brainer: At 150 calories and 35 grams of carbs per can, those can add up to serious poundage. But diet soda packs on the pounds as well—it’s just more passive-aggressive about it. “Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.” Translation: Diet soda can actually make you eat more high-cal, high-carb junk.