We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about all things carbs. No matter what your goal or dietary approach, swapping whole foods in for hyper-processed carbs is a great way to improve your energy, health and progress by amping up your micronutrients and fibre, while lowering that blood sugar and insulin spike.
Quick refresher: What are processed carbs and why do we care?
Processed carbs are somewhat “pre-digested” so are rapidly absorbed into our bloodstream. This causes a big spike in blood sugar, and in a hormone to deal with all that sugar called insulin. Elevated insulin levels are seen years to decades before we actually see the high blood sugar we use to diagnose Diabetes, are also linked to the development of some cancers, and an increase in production of our lipoproteins that can be a contributor to plaques in your blood vessels and heart disease. In addition, many key nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals are removed during processing. This means you’re getting fewer key repair nutrients for energy, immune health, and metabolism.
- Flour based products like bread, pizza crust, pasta, crackers, baked goods (muffins, pastries, buns)
- Breakfast cereals
- Granola bars
- Instant or quick oats
- White rice
- Couscous (not actually a grain, made from wheat flour)
- Many frozen potato products like tots, hash browns etc where the skin is removed.
- Ice cream and sweet desserts
- Added sugars: Sugar (white, brown and raw), honey, maple syrup, agave….
Whole foods carbs such as fruits, whole grains, and starchy veggies are much harder to digest, meaning you get a nice steady and slow rise in blood sugar (think a steady drip instead of a big gulp), which gives you a much more normal and healthy rise in insulin. We can also slow down digestion by adding fats, proteins and fibre to meals with carbs in them.
Quick swaps to boost meals you already make:
- Pasta – swap in ½ zucchini noodles to lower the amount of regular pasta, or try spaghetti squash
- Roast up sweet potatoes, beets or potatoes (with those skins on) instead of buns to go with a bbq dinner.
- Have fresh or fruit instead of a muffin for a sweet snack
- Try cauliflower mash (start with ½ steamed cauli, and ½ potatoes to start) instead of regular mashed potatoes, or leave the skins on
- Experiment with cauliflower, zucchini, or psyllium pizza crusts for a healthy everyday base
- Swap instant oats for rolled, or even better, steel cut.
- Add chia seeds or ground flax to replace some of instant/quick oats in an overnight oat recipe
- Try brown or wild rice instead of white
- Substitute quinoa as a base for a poke or buddha bowl instead of white rice
- Try crunchy roasted chickpeas (store-bought or homemade) instead of croutons on a salad
- Sweeten smoothies with 1-2 dates soaked in hot water or a few slices of frozen banana.
- Use frozen berries warmed up in the microwave to sweeten yogurt (the juice that comes off makes for great flavour!)
- Use mashed banana instead of sugar to sweeten up baking.
- Psyllium Low Carb Pizza Crust
- Stuffed Pulled Pork Sweet Potatoes (instead of sliders) – I like to do my sweet potatoes in the microwave (out of sheer laziness) before finishing in the oven, but you do you! Look for the small, narrow sweet potatoes to help with portions.
- Pesto Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes – another take that skips a bun to amp up both flavour, and nutrients!
- Garlic Butter Shrimp Zucchini Noodles – perfect quick and easy weeknight meal, plus everything is better with butter and garlic.
- 20 Different Recipes For Zucchini Noodles! While they aren’t pasta, I love the light crunch (and don’t miss the heavy feeling pasta gives me) for a weeknight meal.
- Creamy Garlic Mashed Cauliflower – so good. We love this under meatballs and a tomato sauce for THE coziest (and easiest if you use pre made meatballs) winter meal. Make it even faster by steaming the cauliflower florets or cauli rice (both work) in the microwave and then tossing all the goods in the processor.
- Easy 30 Min Weeknight Cauliflower Rice Stir Fry – top with quick cooking protein like shrimp or tofu, or throw in some leftover chicken for a complete meal.
- Cauliflower Fried Rice – this is quick and easy if you use pre-cut cauli rice (find it in the veggie aisle with the boxed greens and snap peas, or in the frozen veggie section), and a great way to make a favourite healthier!
I hope a few of these recipes help you swap in more whole foods where a processed carb would usually live! As always, life is about balance. Enjoy your favourite processed carbs completely (I know I do!), but make sure you’re not relying on them to fill out every meal. If you think you need more one on one support with food and health, you can check out our personalized nutrition packages here.
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