There is no shortage of talk about carbohydrates in the health world. The U.S. Food Pyramid has been guiding us for years to get half of our daily caloric intake from carbohydrates, often falling under the categories of "whole grain breads" or "whole-grain, fortified cereals."
This had led to the entire middle section of our grocery stores being filled with processed cereals, frozen pizzas, bread products, pastries, and the like.
I sincerely hope we can throw out this notion entirely as we continue to evolve in our understanding of how carbohydrates, particularly grains and gluten, process in the body.
After working with clients for many years, and watching the diet industry enslave us to this notion that whole grains are healthy, I can confidently say that we are better off choosing sources of carbohydrates that do not fall under any bread or whole grain category along with moderating our overall intake of carbohydrates each day.
The question here is why?
If we truly want to see an improvement in our overall health, including optimal fat metabolism, improved insulin sensitivity, and high energy levels for our daily activities, we must consume a diet rich in foods that promote optimal blood glucose levels.
This means reducing overall carbohydrate intake and choosing foods that promote better energy levels, moods, digestion, and more.
Grains and gluten work against this goal of healthy metabolic function by elevating insulin levels and putting us on a hamster wheel of energy crashes, sugar cravings, and insatiable appetites.
There is often some room for very small consumption of actual whole grains like oats, brown rice, and barley, but often at the cost of poor energy levels and the inability to optimally burn fat.
The next question is, where do we get our daily carbohydrate intake from?
Instead of running to high-sugar fruits, juices, sliced bread, and other processed junk high in carbs, I'd love to introduce to a world of carbohydrate foods that heal the body so we can experience the energy and vitality we need to live our best life.
The ten foods I've listed below will stabilize blood sugar, satisfy cravings, and deliver impressive amounts of nutrients to keep the body thriving.
Let's jump right in, shall we?
Quinoa is known for being "high in protein", however, it's not the quantity of protein that's impressive but rather the fact that it delivers all nine amino acids--a rarity offered in the plant-food world.
Typically, amino acids can best be obtained through animal protein, including sea food. The impressive "complete protein" content of quinoa makes it an optimal plant-based addition to a diet rich in animal protein. Some amino acids are formed naturally in the body, however, we must obtain the rest from our diet.
Protein plays a crucial role in many biological processes, including metabolic function (think: regulation of hormones, macronutrients, body temperature). Amino acids are a vital component of these processes, including but not limited to: the transportation and storage of nutrients.
A majority of our modern-day diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more, can be traced back to metabolic disfunction which is often caused by poor diet (i.e. lack of amino acids) and other lifestyle choices.
Along with being a nutritional powerhouse, quinoa (not considered a grain) has been shown through studies to improve microbial balance promoting healthy gut flora and gastrointestinal health.
I love to cook quinoa and then add to it some fresh lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and pumpkin seeds to serve as a side dish. It is also wonderful added to soup or a salad.
2. Sweet Potatoes
A perfect base for butter, cinnamon, grass-fed beef, or eggs, sweet potatoes provide a creamy sweetness that satisfies the cravings that often come when transitioning away from junk to a whole-foods diet.
Also a nutritional power-house, sweet potatoes and yams deliver impressive amounts of Vitamin A and keep blood sugars stable.
Make these perfectly amazing morning sweet potatoes for a satisfying base to your over-easy eggs.
It's no secret that berries are a food we should be eating on a regular basis. They offer impressive cancer-fighting antioxidants that protect cell function in addition to aiding in overall cognitive function. If your memory seems to be fading a bit, increase your intake of blueberries for improvement.
In comparison to high-sugar fruits like watermelon, grapes, and oranges, berries are low in fructose, making them an ideal choice for those looking to lose weight and maintain balanced blood sugars.
Fructose (found in fruits), unlike other carb forms, has to be processed in the liver. After being processed it can then be used as fuel; however, if the body already has optimal levels of carb storage (often the case), it is converted to triglycerides (fat). High triglyceride levels in the bloodstream is a main risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
One would never think of fruit being a pre-curser to heart disease, but for most of the world's history, we only consumed fruits grown in our local area. Each fruit only grows for a short month or two before new types are harvested. We now have access to unlimited fruits year round, and unfortunately, many of those are consumed in juice form--only adding to the disastrous situation of elevated fructose consumption.
With that said, stick to low sugar fruits like berries, kiwis, stone-fruits, tomatoes, and lemons/limes.
4. Dark Chocolate (70% or higher cacao)
Woah, chocolate made the list? Yes, yes it did.
Now, we aren't talking about Hershey's Kisses and Snicker's bars here. I know, disappointing for most, but truthfully, you won't be missing anything after you ditch the junk and really learn to love actual chocolate.
Dark chocolate happens to be rich in flavanoids, a phytochemical that promotes healthy cognitive function. It also contains phenylethylamine, a component that contributes to feelings of well-being and alertness.
And surprisingly enough, dark chocolate aids in optimal gut health which leads to better overall immunity and cognitive function.
When searching for the perfect chocolate, look for a cocoa content of 75% of higher. This ensures you are getting all of the health benefits provided from the cacao (or cocoa) bean with minimal amounts of sugar to derail your insulin levels.
If you're used to really sweet chocolate junk, it may take some adjusting, but with time, I assure you it will become a delicacy you crave--leaving no room in your diet for the overly sweet, nutrient-void chocolate products on most shelves.
Most people don't think of an avocado as a carbohydrate source, but it does off a small amount (15-17 grams per avocado). The balance of fats with carbohydrates makes it a snack that helps keep us full while maintaining healthy blood sugars.
The fats provided with avocado also aid in glowing skin and overall healthy brain function.
Spread avocado on romaine lettuce leaves, adding grilled chicken, sunflower seeds, and raw cheese for a perfect afternoon meal.
6. Dried Apricots
A low-glycemic fruit that provides tons of fiber, iron, and potassium, dried apricots are a food that can be easily taken on hikes or road trips for a perfect carbohydrate snack.
My kids often eat these with pistachios for their lunch. The combination of protein and carbs offers a satisfying and healthy meal for both kids and adults alike.
When purchasing, look for labels that only contain apricots. They often have nitrates, sugar, and artificial color added which are totally unnecessary and turn them into a very unhealthy choice for snacking.
We purchase ours in bulk at Costco!
7. Fresh Figs
Similar to apricots, figs are a low-sugar fruit that provide ample amounts of fiber, iron, and potassium. Look for fresh figs in the fall time at your local Whole Foods or in dried form during the remainder of the year.
Serve fresh figs on a green salad base with goat cheese and roasted beets. They are also a wonderful food to eat by itself.
Dried figs can be chopped up and added to a homemade trail mix.
8. Macadamia Nuts
The only nut that doesn't have a high ratio of omega-6's to 3's (hello inflammation), they offer impressive amounts of monounsaturated fats (the fats found in avocado and olive oils) which offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
When we're talking anti-inflammatory, think less aches and pains, rashes, headaches, heart disease risk, and more.
In addition, one study shows effects of improved blood lipid profiles in mice fed macadamia nut diets.
Consume nuts as an afternoon snack to curb hunger. All nuts offer a healthy profile of benefits, but macadamia nuts keep the omega 3/6 balance in check. Adding them into your cycle of nut consumption is a perfect way to avoid overeating nuts that raise levels of omega-6's in the body.
It's no surprise bananas made this list. Who can resist a simple peeling process for the perfectly creamy and sweet taste of a banana?
High in carbohydrates, bananas help replenish muscles after a workout and keep those nerves working well through a healthy supply of potassium (bye, bye leg cramps).
Spread almond butter + pumpkin seeds on a banana for a perfect afternoon snack.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Known to ward off parasitic infection, pumpkin seeds are an amazing food for promoting overall gut health.
Per half cup, they provide 17 grams of carbs, 6 grams of protein, and impressive amounts of magnesium, a mineral proven to help with proper nerve function--reducing migraines, restless leg syndrome, and symptoms of depression.
Sprinkle pumpkin seeds over soups, casseroles, or fruit/yogurt bowls for a delectable crunch and punch of nutrients.
Curious what it looks like to make a lifestyle out of health by learning how to integrate these foods plus other healthy habits? Join us in March for Summit Fit Academy, an online program for women who want to create a lifestyle of health they love and reach their absolute potential in life.
Living your best life is totally possible and I'd love to be the one to help you get there!