Why We Need Carbohydrates and How To Eat Them
Carbohydrates are not the “bad guys” if you want to lose weight. (Neither are fats! Read more about fats and inflammation here). Rather carbohydrate foods are essential for good health. However, the quantity of concentrated carbohydrates must be controlled and be balanced with sufficient protein at each meal or snack. It is also best to choose most of your carbohydrates from foods which are low or moderate on the glycemic index.
Carbohydrate foods are vital for good health. They provide a quick source of fuel for our brains which cannot derive energy from other types of food. Plant foods are our only source of fiber, and insufficient fiber in the diet has been associated with insulin resistance. (1) Most of the foods on Dr. Galland’s anti-inflammatory foods list at the end of the inflammation page come from plants and contain carbohydrates. Thus, very-low-carbohydrate high-protein diets deprive us of the foods which are our best sources of fuel for our brains, fiber, vitamins, minerals, bioflavanoids, carotenoids, anti-oxidants and other nutrients vital for good heath.
However, carbohydrate-dense foods such as breads and grain products eaten alone can cause spikes in insulin levels, especially if they have a high glycemic index score. Therefore, all carbohydrate-dense foods need to be eaten with protein, and most of the time they should be chosen from foods low or intermediate on the glycemic index. To achieve balance, for every 15 grams of carbohydrate in a meal or snack, you should consume 7 grams of protein at the same time. This is the core principle of the link-and-balance method of controlling blood sugar and blood insulin levels. There is a listing of serving sizes for carbohydrate foods (with one unit approximately equaling 15 grams of carbohydrate) and a similar list for protein foods (with one unit approximately equaling 7 grams of protein) in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss and the How-To e-Pak for Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss. Use these lists to make food choices for balanced meals and snacks. Do not eat more than 2 units (30 grams) of carbohydrate-dense foods per meal or snack. More than 30 grams of carbohydrate eaten at once and not used for physical activity within two hours will result in the deposition of fat. If you get hungry in less than two hours after a meal, you should have a protein snack with vegetables but do not consume more concentrated carbohydrate foods.
Although vegetables contain carbohydrates, with a few exceptions, they are not carbohydrate dense. They contain fiber which moderates the absorption of the carbohydrates and they also contain a fair amount of water. Therefore, most of them need not be balanced with protein. There are few carbohydrate-dense vegetables which are exceptions to this rule (corn, plantains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro root and true yams) and they must be balanced with sufficient protein. You may eat the other, non- carbohydrate-dense vegetables in unlimited amounts to satisfy hunger. Be sure to eat enough fruits and vegetables – at least five servings per day according to Dr. Hart and nine servings per day according to Dr. Galland – for the anti-inflammatory weight loss-promoting nutrients they contain.
Some fruits are so high in fiber that, according to Dr. Hart, they may be eaten alone for a snack without balancing them with protein. This is because the fiber slows down the absorption of the carbohydrates which they contain. These fruits include apples, pears, peaches, plums and grapefruit; they must be eaten raw, not juiced, not cooked. If you eat them alone, do not eat more than one moderate serving for a snack. If you want a larger serving of these fruits or if you are eating any other kind of fruit, balance the carbohydrate in them with protein as you do for carbohydrate-dense foods. To determine how to balance various fruits with one serving of protein, see the table in Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss or the How-To e-Pak for Food Allergy and Gluten-Free Weight Loss. A serving of fruit containing 15 grams of carbohydrate should be balanced with 7 grams of protein. Do not eat more than 30 grams of carbohydrate from all sources combined at any meal or snack.
Make sure you get and enjoy carbohydrate foods. Be especially diligent to consume generous servings of the anti-inflammatory foods listed at the end of the inflammation page on this website.
1. Hart, Cheryle R., MD and Mary Kay Grossman, RD, The Insulin Resistance Diet, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001, 2007), 75.