For many of us Americans, packing on pounds over the winter holidays is typical. Would you rather lose weight this December? Or, simply not gain any? Is this possible while still enjoying the season?
Yes it is! If you make ONE simple change for the month of December, you’ll either lose weight or at least not gain any.
so what’s the one simple change?
Get carb savvy. Not carb rigid, not carb phobic, but simply carb savvy.
Let’s dig into this more. Many women aren’t clear what carbohydrates are. In a nutshell, all foods that break down into simple sugars are carbohydrates. All plant foods contain carbohydrates. In addition, milk sugars are carbohydrates. These are in yogurt, half and half, milk, and ice cream.
Plant foods may contain protein as well (like beans), and they may also contain fat (think avocados or flaxseeds), but for this simple purpose we are only paying attention to the carbohydrate component.
Carbs are NOT evil. But, there’s good ones and bad ones
The GOOD ones are nutrient-dense, diverse, whole-plant foods that provide a plethora of nutrients and feed a robust gut microbiome. These include all vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains – of course if tolerated.
The BAD ones are refined flours and sugars. They are “empty calories,” meaning calories with no nutrition. If you consume too much you eventually suffer repercussions (think weight gain, diabetes and PCOS). These empty carbs can also cause energy swings and crashes, depression and anxiety, brain fog, dysbiosis, and nutrient deficiencies.
Think about it. It’s been a very short time in our history that we have had access to refined carbs, and now there’s an infinite supply, available 24/7. So it’s up to us to become carb savvy.
so are you game to get carb savvy?
If so, identify yourself here on this chart:
These carb amounts refer to “net carbohydrates,” meaning after fiber is subtracted. Fiber doesn’t count, because it’s food for your gut bacteria. Just to be clear, this is the amount of net carbs to eat over a given day, in order to have stable blood sugar, a lean body, and good gut microbes.
Getting carb savvy is easier than you may think
- Pick where you fall on the above chart.
- Then, do not count calories, protein, or fat. Just count carbohydrates.
- Subtract the fiber, which gives you the net carb amount.
- Measure to begin with, then graduate to eyeballing, which is much more relaxed.
How do you “count” net carbs?
Use the labels on packaged foods to determine net carb amounts. Look at the carb grams per serving, subtract the fiber grams, and you get your total net carb amount.
For whole foods, there’s easy-peasy apps. The most widely-used is My Fitness Pal which has literally every food (packaged and whole) on it. Carb Manager is another good one.
More and more restaurants have nutrient facts on their menus and you can see the carbs right there.
And, to make it easier, read on to see net carb amounts for a good range of whole foods, and download my handout at the end. I’ve done the fiber-math for you.
NET CARBS OF NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS
Don’t even bother counting these carbs:
Why? They are low-carbohydrate (usually less than 5 g of net carb per cup) and have lots of great fiber!
Arugula, asparagus, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, beet greens, bell peppers (red, green, yellow), broccoli, brussels sprouts, butterbur, cabbage, carrots (raw), cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chives, collard greens, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, ginger root, green beans, hearts of palm, jicama, jalapeno peppers, kale, kohlrabi, lamb’s quarter, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, parsley, peppers (sweet green, red and yellow), radishes, radicchio, snap peas, snow peas, shallots, spinach, summer squash (crookneck, scallop, straight neck, zucchini), swiss chard, taro (leaves or shoots), turnip greens, watercress. There are more, but this list covers the most common.
Nature’s dessert: fresh fruit, 15 gram net carb amounts:
1 small apple, 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce, 2 medium apricots, 1 avocado, 1/2 banana, 1 cup berries, cherries, or cranberries, 2 figs, 1/2 grapefruit, 15 grapes, 1 large kiwi, 3 lemons, 2 limes, 1/2 mango, 1 cup melon, 1 nectarine, 1 orange, 1 peach, 2 tangerines, 1/2 papaya, 1/2 large pear, 2 persimmons, 3/4 cup pineapple, 2 plums, 1/3 cup cooked plantains, 1/2 cup pomegranate, 1 tomato.
Slow and low with dried fruit, 15 grams per portion:
3 rings dried apple, 7 halves dried apricots, 1 TBS dehydrated banana, 2 TBS zante currants, 2 dates, 1 fig, 2 halves peaches, 1/2 dried pear, 2 TBS raisons, 1/6 oz sun-dried tomato
Cooked starchy veggies, 15 grams per portion:
- 1/2 cup acorn squash, cassava, corn, green peas, lima beans, lotus root, turnips, yucca
- 2/3 cup butternut squash, parsnip, pumpkin
- 1 cup beets, carrots, leeks, okra, pumpkin, spaghetti squash
- 1/2 medium potato, sweet potato, yam
- 1/4 rutabaga
Whole beans and grains, 15 grams per serving:
Most whole beans (legumes) and grains contain 15 grams of carbs in a 1/3 cup serving. Just think of these more as a condiment amount rather than a whole-plate amount. Exceptions:
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 2/3 cup whole oats
- 2.5 cups popcorn
- 1/4 cup miso
- 1/2 cup natto
- 1 cup soymilk, unsweetened
- 1/2 cup tempeh
- 1 cup tofu
Milk (dairy) foods, 15 grams per serving:
- 1.25 cups milk (whole, 2%, or fat-free)
- 1.25 cups whole milk yogurt
- 3/4 cup reduced fat yogurt (reduced fat yogurt has more carbs compared to whole milk)!
Nuts, seeds, and their butters, 5 gram portions:
While nuts and seeds are high in fat and protein, they are plants, and they still contain carbohydrates. These portions contain about five grams of net carbs:
- Between 1/4 – 1/3 cup of nuts or seeds
- About 2 TBS of nut or seed butter
but alcohol, added sugars, bread, and restaurants!
These are the first “buts” you may think of. You’ll notice pretty quickly that these all shoot up your carb content real fast. Here’s some suggestions to mitigate these in a relaxed manner:
- At a restaurant, immediately put 1/2 of your food aside in a carryout container (or at least the carbs). Portions are almost always too carby and too caloric.
- Choose protein, a salad and a couple servings of veggies. Special order!
What are added sugars? Here’s an extensive list of 56 names for sugar.
- Explore alternative sweeteners, like the sugar alcohols (xylitol) or stevia or monk fruit – or a combination. These won’t mess up your blood sugar or your carb amounts like all types of regular sugar will.
- Google “keto” desserts for the holidays. One thing I love about food movements getting trendy is that there’s more recipes to choose from! There’s a plethora of keto or low-carb recipes that use alternative sweeteners, or applesauce, fruit, or pumpkin puree. Many are also flourless, and use seed and nuts in creative ways.
- If you want your favorite holiday ooey-gooey-carby thing, plan it and have one serving. Eat it slowly and enjoy.
- Explore diabetic candy sweetened with sugar alcohols.
I do not recommend the chemical artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda) or saccharin (Sweet n Low). There’s problems with all of these, yes including Splenda.
- Think less bread. If you are fine with flour (gluten or gluten free), and you want your muffin, bread, pancake, etc. . . just have a little bit.
- There’s low carb bread! You can buy it or make it.
- Nut and seed bread is a good option.
If you don’t care for it, you’re good. If you do, consider:
- Pick special occasions for it, and choose “skinny drinks,” which essentially means low-carb. And um, if special occasions fall every single day, you may want to examine that habit.
- Dry wines and light beers are lower-carb.
- One option is to just drink on the weekend. If so, you can take out an equivalent carb out of your day. So the remaining carbs for your day are still nutrient-dense.
testing can be rewarding
If you’ve had your blood work done recently, and your fasting blood sugar is over 95, hemoglobin A1C over 5.4, LDL cholesterol over 225, HDL cholesterol under 50, triglycerides over 75, this is for YOU! Do this for December and get your tests done in January and see if you’ve improved. Most of these markers are quick to change.
Get on the scale December 1, and then once a week throughout the month, and see how you’re doing.
You may also want to read 11 Ways To Break Up With Sugar.
There is also the fasting mimicking diet . . .
Many of my patients, friends and colleagues committed to 3 months (5-day rounds) of the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) this fall, once per month, as another strategy to lose weight or not gain weight this time of year. Learn more here.
Happy holidays! I welcome input and questions below…