Fat is no longer the nutrient to avoid when you're dieting. Healthy fats -- such as those found in nuts, avocados and olive oil -- have a place in a weight-loss plan. Carbohydrates, though, are the dieter's new enemy. A 2014 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a low-carb diet helped people lose weight more effectively than a low-fat plan. Carbs are essential nutrients, however, and provide you with energy and fiber, and are critical for a smooth-functioning digestive tract and heart health. The trick is not to ban carbs completely, but to avoid the unhealthiest ones.
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Avoid Carbs From Refined Grains
During processing, manufacturers alter refined grains from their original state. Refined grains are missing the bran and germ, which contain trace minerals along with antioxidants, vitamin E, B vitamins and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These compounds are also a source of fiber.
White rice and white flour, used in pancakes, white pasta, white bread, muffins, cereal bars, white crackers, pizza, wraps and bagels, are highly refined. Your body digests these foods so quickly that they don't leave you feeling full for very long and raise your blood sugar almost instantaneously. Their smooth texture takes little effort to chew. Overeating refined grains is easy and leads to weight gain.
A 2010 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study showing that increasing whole grain consumption correlates with lower levels of belly fat while increasing refined grains increases belly, or visceral, fat. Choose 100-percent whole wheat bread over white, opt for brown rice instead of white rice or make a side dish of wild rice or quinoa instead of white pasta.
Skip Sugar to Lose Weight
Caloric sweeteners, including honey, maple syrup, agave and cane sugar, are carbohydrates prevalent in our food supply. Obvious sources of sugar such as syrups, cupcakes and cookies and candy should be avoided on a weight-loss plan. By far the biggest source of sugar in American's diets is soda and other soft drinks, notes the Center for Science and the Public Interest. Sweetened cold cereal, sweetened dairy -- such as yogurt or flavored milk -- and processed foods, such as salad dressing, ketchup and sauces, are other major sources.
Naturally-occurring sugar found in fresh fruit and plain, unsweetened milk and yogurt, provides healthful, weight-loss supporting carbohydrates, when eaten in moderation.
Limit Starchy Vegetables
Starchy vegetables contain fiber and nutrients essential to your diet. Don't ban them completely when you're trying to lose weight, but avoid excessive serving sizes. Starchy vegetables contain a lot more calories and carbohydrates per serving than do watery, green varieties. For example, a cup of sweet potato contains 180 calories and 41 grams of carbs, a cup of cut corn contains 143 calories, and 31 grams of carbs whereas two cups of raw spinach contains only 14 calories and 2.2 grams of carbs.
Approximately three servings, or cups, of starchy vegetables a week are recommended by the U.S. government's My Plate website. You can replace a serving of whole grains at some meals with these vegetable options to keep your carb intake in check. Avoid embellished versions of starchy vegetables altogether. Fried white or sweet potatoes and chips or a buttery, cheesy gratin, will not support your goals.
Fruits Are OK, In Moderation
Some weight-loss plans discourage you from eating fruit, noting that the sugar in them will hinder your results. Fresh or frozen fruit without added sugar contains critical nutrients and fiber. Fruit can also curb your sweet tooth when sugar is off the table.
Eating too much fruit -- like eating too much of anything -- can prevent you from losing weight. If you rely on fruit at snack time and at all meals, you may be overdoing it. CNN Diet and Fitness Expert, Dr. Melina Jampolis, points out that fruit has approximately three times the number of calories per serving as watery vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce and asparagus. Consider keeping fruit intake to two to three servings a day, and opt for veggies when you need a snack. Also avoid dried fruit, fruit cups and fruit juice. These options often have added sweeteners or are missing much of the fiber found in fresh versions. Dried fruit is condensed and its calories are concentrated, so it's easy to eat a substantial number of calories if you have it as a snack.
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial
- Experience Life: The Truth About Grains
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes Are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: The Framingham Heart Study
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Sugar: Too Much of a Sweet Thing
- The New York Times: What Causes Weight Gain
- Joy Bauer: Starchy Vegetables: How Food Affects Health
- CNN: Can Eating Too Much Fruit Keep Me From Losing Weight?
- Healthaliciousness.com: Sweet Potato, Corn, Spinach
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: All About the Vegetable Group