The wrong carbs can really pack on the pounds, while the right proteins, which are lean and light, can help slim your waistline. The good news for carb lovers is that not all carbs are bad. Although dieters often think of carbohydrates as detrimental to weight loss, a study published in a 2012 edition of “Physiology and Behavior” reported that an increased protein intake is more important than reducing carbohydrates for weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.
“Good” carbs are packed with nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Examples include whole-grain bread, whole-grain cereals, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, legumes, fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and avocados. Nuts, seeds, peanut butter, soy milk and cottage cheese also contain some carbohydrates -- although only about 5 grams -- in each portion.
The “bad” carbs provide calories and carbohydrates, but few -- if any -- additional nutrients. Since you want to avoid eating extra calories, limit the “bad carbs” when possible. Examples include sweets, candy, ice cream, cookies, chocolate, sodas and other sugary drinks. Refined grains also provide few nutrients besides calories and carbs; examples include white bread, white rice, regular pasta, crackers and sugary cereals.
Protein is the key to healthy weight maintenance. According to a 2008 review published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” protein helps you feel full from consuming fewer calories -- especially when compared to fat or carbs. To help reduce your saturated fat intake and to lower your risk for heart disease choose lean or low-fat animal proteins. Some healthy high-protein foods include lean red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, egg whites, low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, reduced-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, soy products, seitan, legumes, nuts and seeds.
You need more carbs than protein each day -- especially if you exercise on a regular basis. According to the Institute of Medicine, women need at least 46 grams of protein and 130 grams of carbohydrates daily. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you still need more carbs than protein. A study published in a 2012 edition of the “British Journal of Nutrition” found that active overweight and obese women who consumed protein-carb ratios of 1-to-2 had the easiest time complying with weight-loss diets and showed the best improvements in body fat, lean muscle mass, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratios. An example of a 1-to-2 protein-carb ratio for a 1,600-calorie diet is 90 grams of protein and 180 grams of carbs each day.
- Physiology and Behavior: Relatively High-Protein or 'Low-Carb' Energy-Restricted Diets for Body Weight Loss and Body Weight Maintenance?
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Protein, Weight Management and Satiety
- British Journal of Nutrition: Effect of the Protein: Carbohydrate Ratio in Hypoenergetic Diets on Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors in Exercising Overweight and Obese Women
Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and has extensive experience working as a health writer and health educator. Her articles are published on various health, nutrition and fitness websites.