“Smart Carbs” are carbs that are health-promoting, slow-digesting and nutrient rich. They are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients; friendly to your blood sugar, hormones and digestion; and give you long-lasting, slow-burn energy.
Smart carbs include fresh or frozen fruit; starchy tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes; other starchy fruits and veggies like bananas/plantains and sweet winter squashes; whole, minimally-processed grains (quinoa, brown or wild rice, slow-cooking oats); and bean and legumes.
Not-so-smart carbs are the refined sugary kind, like pastries; cookies and bars (including protein and nutrition bars); sweets, including candies, chocolates, sweetened drinks (including sports drinks) and sweetened dried fruit; and pretty much anything that’s processed and comes in a bottle, bag or box. Refined, sugary carbs have almost no fiber or beneficial nutrients. They subtract value from our bodies.
Carbs have gotten a bad rap lately, but they really are your friend, and the more active you are, the better friend they’ll be. Don’t cut carbs too low, because you’ll have low energy and feel deprived. With the right kind of carbs, you’ll feel full of energy, calm and relaxed, sleep better, won’t have as many or as strong sugar cravings, have happy hormones, and feel good in the gym, at sports and in life.
So, you want to eat better carbs, not fewer carbs. Adding better carbs can mean switching to whole grains, beans and legumes or potatoes as a side dish; using whole grain alternatives to processed white flour products; switching to steel-cut or old fashioned oats instead of regular cereal; or snacking on fruit. If you are a creative home cook and want to take it up a notch, see if you can find smart carbs substitutes for sugar in baked goods, or even ice cream.
A serving of smart carbs is generally one cupped handful at each meal. You’ll want to experiment with this amount based on your own activity level, and what works best for your body. “Dial up” the carbs in a meal by including more from your smart carb list; dial down the carbs by sticking to colorful veggies.
More fiber and nutrients plus whole foods = more value
Less fiber and fewer nutrients plus processing = less value
Always look to add value. We try not to look at food as “good” or “bad”, but on a continuum of better or worse choices, more or less value. It’s OK to have birthday cake, just try not to celebrate your birthday every day. See how you can make your carb choices just a little bit better today.
Information in this post is sourced from my nutrition coaching program, powered by Precision Nutrition's ProCoach platform.