Controversial topic, I know! Carbohydrates have long been the “enemy” to people who associate themselves as healthy. I, too, used to encourage clients to focus on protein and healthy fats to lose weight and limit carbohydrates. Protein and fat play important roles in metabolism and recovery, don’t get me wrong. My mission (today at least) is to decriminalize carbohydrates and help show you how balancing carbs, fats, and proteins in harmony will help you feel and move your best!
I felt lead to discuss this after watching a recent episode of Down to Earth with Zac Efron (swoon). If you have a chance, give Episode 4 a watch. The episode is filmed in Sardinia where there is a notably high population of centenarians (people living over 100). Why does this matter? Doctors studying the envious longevity of the Sardinian people noted they have a diet high in carbohydrates and lower in protein. The healthy senior citizens walked rigorously, drank wine, ate foods grown, harvested and cooked by the community, and lived low stress lives. Sounds great, right?
While living on an Italian hillside sipping wine and eating pasta isn’t realistic for 99% of us, I think we can learn something from this community. It proves carbohydrates aren’t bad. In fact, they’re clearly associated with living long lives. We can also assume how foods are prepared is important. Taking the time to prepare food with love and intention, ideally growing what we can ourselves, is a healthy practice. Harvesting is great exercise (my dad is a farmer, so I can speak to this from years spent in our family garden and corn fields!) and food preparation is mentally stimulating as well. Cooking and eating nutritious carbohydrates should not be taboo!
As a competitive athlete, I rely on carbohydrates for fuel and recovery. If you’re not a competitive athlete, you still need fuel to survive. Metabolism is a word that gets thrown around a lot by fitness guru’s and coaches. To put it simply, your body needs calories to operate even when you’re at rest. There’s important stuff happening inside of you that requires energy, even when you’re sitting down and reading a book. That being said, the more fit and active you are the more fuel your body needs, even at rest. In short, everyone needs different amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fats based on their genetics and activity level.
To review, here’s what your needs and why:
- Carbohydrates: provide and store energy for your cells, sparing protein and fat for other uses
- Protein: grow and maintain tissue, provide structure for cells, regulate PH, acts as a messenger aiding in communication between cells, important for chemical functions
- Fat: provide energy, support cell growth, aids in protecting vital organs and keeping them warm!
I choose different ratios based on my activity level that day. Example: on days I’m very busy and active, I eat a lot of healthy carbohydrates like fruit, brown rice, and organic or rice pasta to keep my energy up during the day. In the evening, I focus on lean protein, fibrous vegetables and fats once my activity is done. On days my activity level is low, say a recovery day where I sit a lot and write these great blogs, I eat more protein, fiber, and fat throughout the day and fewer carbohydrates in general. I also NEVER train without fuel.
Perhaps this leaves you thinking: what are some healthy sources of carbohydrates and ways to prepare them? I’m happy to provide some suggestions! Ultimately, you need to eat things you enjoy and taste good. Life is just too short. The good news is there are MILLIONS of healthy, tasty, balanced foods that provide all the key nutrients I just outlined. While the purpose of this blog is to get America comfortable with carbs again, I’m not encouraging you binge on Wonder Bread and Little Debbie products. Instead, I hope you look into what healthy combinations of foods and food groups that you enjoy, including carbohydrates. As a free resource, most of the recipes I post on my website include carbs, fats, and protein because I enjoy the way I feel when I eat all three.
Here are my favorite go-to combinations:
- Apples and cheese or nut butter
- Banana with raw nuts or nut butter
- Brown rice with avocado
- Oatmeal with an egg, avocado and feta OR almond milk, blueberries & honey
- Quinoa with fresh fruit, almond or oat milk and a drizzle of honey
- Rice or organic pasta with sautéed vegetables and roasted or grilled chicken
- Homemade banana or zucchini bread with nut butter
- Granola with fruit and oat or almond milk, OR yogurt
The takeaway is this: Carbohydrates are not bad. We should fuel wisely with wholesome, intentionally prepared foods. We should choose foods based on our taste and activity level while having the intuition to adjust. All things in moderation.
Becca’s Favorite Homemade Bread
A simple and delicious way to reduce plastic packaging while investing in producing the foods you eat. Kids may enjoy helping knead the dough as part of a fun kitchen experiment!
*Whole wheat flour can be used in place of flour, too!
- 2 cups warm water (should be warm to the touch, not boiling)
- ½ cup sugar (I use white sugar but plan to try with brown raw sugar soon!)
- 1 ½ T. active dry yeast
- ½ – 1 T. salt (I like Himalayan salt, and prefer more salt)
- 5-6 cups flour
In a medium mixing bowl, combine water with sugar until dissolved. Add yeast and stir continuously for about 5 minutes. The mixture should look combined and froth a little. Add salt and stir for another minute. Add flour one cup at a time. (I usually add about five cups, and then beginning lightly kneading, adding pinches of flour as a go until the dough isn’t sticky to the touch). Knead for 7-8 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl and let rise for 1 hour in a warm place. I usually Once the dough is double in size, punch down (the fun part!) and divide into two greased 9 x 5 loaf pans. Let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes. Be patient, the bread will turn out at about the height you put it in at! Bake at 350* for about 25 minutes, or until a cooking thermometer reads 190-200*. Brush with butter, let cool, and slice with a serrated knife. E N J O Y!