Virtually every weight-loss program welcomes “good carbs” as part of a healthy, lean, long-term diet.
In the lexicon of weight loss, the term “good carbs” refers to complex carbohydrates. These are foods like whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds that are composed largely of complex sugar molecules that require lots of time and energy to digest into the simple sugars your body needs for fuel.
One of the biggest benefits of foods rich in complex carbs is that they also contain large amounts of fiber. Fiber, in basic terms, is the indigestible parts of plant foods. It is the husk on the grain of wheat, the thin strands in celery, the crunch in the apple, the casings on edible seeds. Fiber protects you from heart disease, cancer, and digestive problems. Depending on the type of fiber (there is more than one!), it lowers cholesterol, helps with weight control, and regulates blood sugar.
Bottom line: This is one nutrient you don’t want to miss. Yet the average American gets just 12-15 grams of fiber a day — far below the recommended 25-30 grams. And that was before so many of us started cutting carbs for weight loss — and cutting fiber in the bargain.
Here’s how to sneak “good carbs” and extra fiber into your daily diet with a minimum of effort.
1. Eat cereal every day for breakfast. Ideally, aim for a whole grain, unsweetened cereal with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving. Just eating any cereal might be enough, however. A University of California study found that cereal eaters tend to eat more fiber and less fat than non-cereal eaters. Healthy, high-fiber cereals you might want to consider include Kellogg’s All-Bran Original, Kashi GOLEAN, and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran.
2. Eat two apples every day. Not just to keep the doctor away, but because apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber that contributes to a feeling of fullness and digests slowly. One study found that 5 grams of pectin was enough to leave people feeling satisfied for up to four hours.
3. Make a yogurt mix every Wednesday for breakfast. Take one container of yogurt and mix in 1/3 cup All-Bran cereal, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds, and 5 large, diced strawberries for a whopping 12.2 grams of fiber — nearly half your daily allowance!
4. Eat baby carrots and broccoli florets dipped into low-fat ranch dressing as you afternoon snack three days a week. You’ll fill up the empty space in your tummy while getting about 5 grams of fiber in each cup of veggies.
5. Keep a container of gorp in your car and office for the munchies. Mix together peanuts, raisins, a high-fiber cereal, and some chocolate-covered soy nuts. Allow yourself one handful for a sweet, yet high-fiber, snack.
6. Switch to whole grain crackers. You’d never think a tiny cracker can make a difference, but one regular whole wheat cracker has 1/2 gram of fiber. Ten crackers give you 5 grams of fiber. So next time, spread your peanut butter on whole grain crackers (look for brands that proclaim they’re trans-fat-free) instead of bread for a different taste treat.
7. Mix your regular cereal with the high-test stuff. Okay, we’ll be honest. We wouldn’t want to face an entire bowl of All-Bran either. But just 1/3 cup packs a walloping 8.5 grams of fiber. Mix it with an equal amount of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios and you’ll barely know it’s there (but you will be one-third of the way to your daily fiber intake). Check out the Nature’s Path brands, which offer several truly delicious, high-fiber choices.
8. Add kidney beans or chickpeas to your next salad. A quarter cup adds an additional 5 grams of dietary fiber, notes Lisa Andrews, R.D., a nutritionist at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati.
9. Make sure that the first ingredient in whole grain products has the word “whole” in it, as in “whole wheat,” or “whole grain.” If it says multi-grain, seven-grain, nutra-grain, cracked wheat, stone-ground wheat, unbromated wheat or enriched wheat, it’s not whole wheat, and thus is lacking some of the vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber, of whole grains.
10. Every week, try one “exotic” grain. How about amaranth, bulgur, or wheatberries? Most are as simple to fix as rice, yet packed with fiber and flavor. Mix in some steamed carrots and broccoli, toss with olive oil and a bit of Parmesan or feta cheese, maybe throw in a can of tuna or a couple of ounces of cut-up chicken, and you’ve got dinner. Or serve as a side dish to chicken or fish. Make sure all grains you try are whole grains.
11. Once a week, make pearl barley (which doesn’t require any soaking before cooking) as a side dish. One cup sports 10 grams of fiber, nearly half your daily allotment.
12. Sneak in oatmeal. Use regular oatmeal in place of bread crumbs for meat loaf and meatballs, sprinkle it atop casseroles and ice cream, bake it into cookies and muffins, and add it to homemade breads and cakes.
13. Use whole wheat bread to make your sandwich every day. Even Subway and other such sandwich shops offer whole wheat options for lunchtime munching. If you want to gradually break into the whole wheat club, use whole wheat bread as the bottom slice of your sandwich and regular bread as the top layer, suggests Joan Salge Blake, R.D., clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University’s Sargent College. Eventually, make the switch to whole grains.