Most of the foods that we love are centered around delicious, sticky, sweet and salty carbohydrates. Our brains and blood cells love the sugar, but our waistlines beg to differ. The lovely carb-filled foods that we love to munch on tend to be higher in calories and less satiating, and as a result they became a subject of great scrutiny for those trying to lose weight. (Although, some new studies are pointing towards some carbs deserving their place on our dinner plates.)
Carb-counting (which really just means controlling your carb intake) originated as a way to help diabetics control their blood sugar via diet, with or without the additional aid of medication. Despite the advent of multiple amazing medications, the two things that still help control diabetes the most are controlling carb intake, and losing weight (if overweight). But, as many things tend to do, carb-counting has gained a bad reputation amongst the general public.
Many people seem to think that carb-counting essentially means not eating any carbs, or eating so few that it’s essentially an Atkins-type diet. It’s also thought that one can only eat certain types of carbs, at certain times or that one must become a voracious consumer of all meat products, and never look at a carb ever again. But never fear, I can assure you that none of the above are true.
Before you should even consider trying carb-counting, you need to to evaluate whether this method is appropriate for you. Do you consistently have issues with high blood sugar and/or high triglycerides? Do you struggle to keep your weight stable and/or to lose weight? Then this approach might work for you, although it’s not for everyone.
As I mentioned earlier, most of the foods that humans overeat are carbohydrates—pizza, french fries, pastries and candy, chips and crackers, beer, wine, mixed drinks, sugar-laden beverages, and more. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three macronutrients that make up all foods that we eat. Unfortunately, of the three, carbs are the least satiating. So, you will feel more full eating 200 calories of steak then you will eating 200 calories of bread or crackers. In addition, liquids are less satiating than solids, so you will feel less full drinking a smoothie for breakfast versus eating a bowl of cereal in the morning, even if it’s the same amount of calories.
On the other hand, protein is the most satiating food group because it takes the longest to digest. In addition, most people aren’t going to overeat on protein foods, unless you regularly overeat wings, ribs, or chicken. So, making sure to have a little bit of protein and/or fat with your meals and snacks will help you feel full for longer.
Thus, carb-counting essentially works by decreasing the amount of calories from carbs and keeping everything else the same. We’re not talking about cutting out all carbs, or doing anything else crazy with your diet. Plus, you get to choose what you use your meal’s allowance of carbs on—so if you really want to use all of your 45 grams of carbs for the meal on a can of Coca-Cola, by all means go right ahead. Or you could eat half a cup of rice and a dinner roll instead, as it’s completely up to you. Granted, carb-counting also operates on a principle of being able to estimate or measure serving sizes, which are also known as exchanges. So, one carb serving is synonymous with a carb exchange, which is also equivalent to roughly 15 grams of carbs.
Writing down all the carb items you eat throughout the day for a couple of days can be an eye-opener for some foods that might be more problematic in your diet. For example, when I lived in the deep South, I would often encounter patients who were drinking one gallon, or more, of sweet iced tea or soda per day. That’s a whole lot of carbs and empty calories that won’t fill you up and will likely contribute to some pretty jacked up dental situations. Sometimes even just cutting out those sugary beverages helped a lot with weight and blood sugar control.
As with most food plans, any extreme is likely going to lead to failure, and carb-counting is no different. If you decide to enthusiastically just eat 15 grams of carbs at each meal after you’ve been eating a ton more, then you might crack. And as with most other food ventures, there’s a bit of a learning curve at the beginning to learn serving sizes and to figure out which method works best for you. But luckily, there are a ton of resources from legitimate sources that can help you on your merry carb-counting way. Check out a few below and let us know what your thoughts are, and what works for you!