Tag Archives: #fiber

Are Carbohydrates Good for You?

Is it me, or do those cookies look slightly evil?

“Are carbs good for you?” I get that question a lot.  If I wasn’t a dietitian, I’d be curious, too, given all the buzz about carbohydrates.  Here’s what you should consider about carbohydrates and health.

Carbohydrates Keep You Going 

Carbohydrates, found in an array of foods, are your body’s preferred energy source. Carbohydrates are digested and converted into glucose, which fuels every cell. The brain and red blood cells rely heavily on carbohydrate, and when levels of glucose drop in your bloodstream, your mental and physical energy goes south, too.

Feeling “hangry” is a real thing. 

Carbohydrates are found in foods such as milk, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans), bread, cereals, pasta, rice, and other grains, cookies, cakes, and other sweets.  With the exception of fiber, which is technically a carbohydrate but mostly indigestible, all types of carbs turn into glucose, and all carbs supply four calories per gram.

A recent survey found that Americans blame carbohydrates for weight gain, which is probably why low-carb diets are so attractive.  However, a consistently low carbohydrate intake forces the body to turn to protein and fat for energy, which isn’t ideal. Protein is meant to provide the raw materials to build and maintain lean tissue, including muscle, and to make enzymes, hormones, and cells to support life. When protein is redirected for energy, it cannot fully do its job.

A low-carb diet may shorten your life

 

Cut carbs, and you cut calories, which may be the reason for weight loss.

As your low-carb intake wears on, the body begins to burn more fat. Fat breakdown produces compounds called ketones. Blood levels of ketones are consistently elevated on a very low-carb diet.  Experts aren’t sure about the effects of such elevated ketones on health, but they do know that excessive ketones can be life-threatening in people with diabetes.

Very low-carb eating plans, such as the ketogenic diet, often lead to fat loss, but it’s unclear exactly why. While it’s true that people who cut carbohydrate intake to bare-bones levels shed pounds, it’s usually because they had been eating excessive amounts of foods with refined carbs and added sugar, such as cookies, cake, and candy. Simply cutting calories could be the reason for the weight loss.

Maple syrup and honey may be “natural,” but they are sources of added sugar.

Carbohydrates are classified as “simple,” and “complex.”

When you eat simple carbohydrates, such as maple syrup, honey, table sugar, and white bread, pasta, and rice, the body quickly digests them and converts them into glucose, producing immediate energy, which must be used right away or stored as body fat. Insulin helps the glucose to enter cells and return blood glucose levels to normal. Problem is, a steady diet of simple carbohydrates increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer by promoting a condition known as insulin resistance.

The starch and other complex carbohydrates found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes (beans), take longer for the body to digest, making for a slower and steadier energy release into the bloodstream. As a result, your body makes  less insulin to metabolize glucose, which is better for your health.

Study: Eating a more plant-based diet is linked to lower Body Mass Index

Choose Quality Carbohydrates

When it comes to choosing carbs, quality counts. It’s a good idea to consider the company that carbohydrates keep rather than taking them off your menu.

Foods rich in added sugars, such as regular soft drinks, granola bars, and candy, typically offer little besides calories. That doesn’t mean you must avoid them altogether, however. Find out what your added sugar limit is here.

Choose high-carb, nutrient-rich foods to support your health.

Fruits and vegetables, and plain milk and yogurt, contain naturally-occurring simple sugars. They are not on the list of sweeter foods experts advise us to limit, however.

Foods with naturally-occurring sugar, as well as starchy foods such as grains, potatoes, and rice, are desirable because they supply vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and phytonutrients, beneficial plant compounds that protect your cells. Fortified grains supply additional nutrients, such as iron and folic acid, which are often in short supply in women of childbearing age.

The downside of going gluten-free

Bread made with fortified grains provides vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates are Good for Your Gut

Fiber, found only in plant foods, including whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and beans, protects against diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Your gut cannot digest fiber, but the bacteria that live there can.

Bacteria in the colon ferment, or feed on, the fiber in food, producing short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA protect the lining of your gut and defend it against colon cancer, help to control blood glucose, reduce inflammation, and strengthen your immune system.

Fiber helps to keep you fuller longer, which is beneficial when trying to control your weight. It also plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels, keeping blood glucose concentrations in a normal range, and preventing constipation.

Fruit is full of water, and can help you meet your daily fluid needs.

How Much Carbohydrate and Fiber Should You Eat?

Carbohydrate and fiber intakes are based on calorie requirements.

Experts recommend consuming 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories as carbohydrate. That amounts to:

  • 248 to 358 grams on a 2,200-calorie eating plan
  • 225 and 325 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan
  • 202 to 293 grams on an 1,800-calorie eating plan

Just for reference, popular low-carb diets suggest far less carbohydrate than nutrition experts.  For example, the ketogenic way of eating recommends no more than 50 grams daily, about the amount found in a three-ounce egg bagel.

Check this list for the carbohydrate content of foods. 

Suggested fiber intakes are easier to figure:

• For every 1,000 calories consumed, eat at least 14 grams of fiber from food.

• For example, on a 2,000-calorie eating plan, include a minimum of 28 grams of food fiber daily.

Beans supply a type of fiber that beneficial gut bacteria love!

How to Get the Fiber You Need

It’s easier to include adequate fiber when you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings a day of whole grains. For packaged foods, such as bread and cereal, check “Dietary Fiber” on the Nutrition Facts panel of food labels for fiber content.

Here are some common fiber sources, listed in grams:

Navy beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 10

Lentils, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Black beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Garbanzo beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Whole wheat bread, 2 ounces: 6

White beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 6

Pear, 1 medium: 6

Avocado, 1⁄2 cu:p 5

Soybeans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked or roasted: 5

Peas, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 4

Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon: 4

Apple, medium, with skin:  4

Raspberries, 1⁄2 cup: 4

Potato, medium, with skin, baked: 4

Sweet potato, medium, flesh only, baked: 4

Almonds, 1 ounce: 4

Broccoli, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Orange, 1 medium: 3

Banana, 1 medium: 3

Quinoa, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: The Bottom Line

Like any calorie-containing component of food, including protein, fat, and alcohol, too much carbohydrate in your diet may end up as stored body fat because of the excess calories it provides. Likewise, eating drastically less than the recommended amount of carbohydrate is not a good idea, either, because it has several negative consequences that may affect your health in the longterm.

Including more plant, and plain dairy foods, as part of balanced eating plan is your best bet for getting enough “good” carbs. Even the so-called “bad” carbohydrates, such as added sugars, white bread, and pasta, can still be a part of a balanced eating plan, even with diabetes. (Check with your dietitian about your daily carbohydrate budget.)

Vegetables supply several nutrients, including fiber and phytonutrients – protective plant compounds.

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Fudge Cake

Warning: Rave ahead. As in I can’t stop raving about this rich, flourless chocolate and black bean cake topped with fresh raspberries.  Trust me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the combination of flavors!  Although it contains added sugar, Raspberry Fudge Cake is better for you than typical desserts.  This recipe is a riff on the Black Bean Brownie Bites in my latest book Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

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Produce Power 

Fruits and vegetables help to make indulgences healthier. In this case, the raspberries and black beans work together to bump the fiber content to 8 grams (about 25% of the Daily Value) and the protein to 7 grams per serving.

Here’s why I use fruit, and vegetables, including beans, in baked goods and snacks. Beans are brimming with nutrients including protein, fiber, potassium, and phytonutrients, compounds that protect your body. When pureed and used in baked goods, beans are useful as fat replacers, and they enhance the fudge-like texture. Check out the many amazing ways food blogger Catherine Katz at Cuisinicity works magic with lentils in sweet, and savory, dishes.

I cannot get enough raspberries! They’re delicious, beautiful, and powerful little orbs that supply vitamin C, fiber, phytonutrients, and so much more. And raspberries provide natural sweetness so you can use less added sugar when cooking.

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An All-Around Great Cake

I told you I was going to brag.

Raspberry Fudge Cake takes about 40 minutes from start to finish. While it looks special enough for a celebration, it’s so easy to make that you can have it any time.

We are mad for this cake in our house. I hope you like it as much as we do!

Raspberry Fudge Cake

Makes 8 servings.

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon canola oil

2 large eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup + 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (or 1/3 cup white chocolate chips for the topping)

1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries, washed and dried

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

Place the beans and 3 tablespoons of oil in a food processor. Process on high until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract and blend well.  Add the baking powder and salt and blend for 10 seconds more. Stir in 1/2 cup of the dark chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes.

Top the cake with the raspberries.  Combine the remaining teaspoon of canola oil and the remaining 1/3 cup dark or white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave until chips are melted, about 20 to 30 seconds, stopping to stir once.  Immediately drizzle the chocolate mixture on top of the raspberries. Allow the chocolate to harden for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Per serving: 
316 calories; 14 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat); 54 milligrams cholesterol; 271 milligrams sodium; 45 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams fiber; 7 grams protein

 

No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups

I love muffins, but I don’t love the huge, high-calorie coffee shop and supermarket versions filled with refined carbohydrates and not much else in the way of nutrition. I bake a batch of these simple, no-added sugar oatmeal cups on the weekends to have as part of breakfast or for snacks all week long. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups

No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups get their sweetness from fruit.

Why are these “muffins” better than most? In addition to having no added sugar, they use oatmeal, a more nutritious, whole grain, instead of white flour, and offer heart-healthy fat. Bananas and raisins supply vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Walnuts add even more heart-healthy fat, as well as fiber, and protein, too.

No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups

Makes 16 servings.

3 cups oats, uncooked

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

3 ripe medium bananas, mashed well

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups 1% low-fat milk

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. (I find this works better than lining the pan with paper liners because the muffins tend to stick to the paper.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the mashed bananas, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until well combined.  Whisk in the milk.

Pour the banana mixture into the oats mixture. Add the raisins. Stir well to combine. The batter has a lot of liquid in it, so don’t worry if it looks soupy.

Fill the muffin cups nearly to the top with batter (a scant 1/4-cup full).

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until set.  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack for 5 minutes, with the muffins still in the pan. Remove the muffins from the pan and allow them to cool on the wire rack. Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Per serving (made without walnuts): Calories: 145, Carbohydrate: 21 grams, Fiber: 2 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Fat: 6 grams, Saturated fat: 1 gram, Cholesterol: 28 milligrams, Sodium: 157 milligrams, Calcium: 80 milligrams.

No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups

With or without walnuts, No Added Sugar Banana Raisin Oatmeal Cups are better for you than store-bought muffins.

Per serving (made with walnuts): Calories: 169, Carbohydrate: 22 grams, Fiber: 3 grams, Protein: 5 grams, Fat: 8 grams, Saturated fat: 1 gram, Cholesterol: 28 milligrams, Sodium: 157 milligrams, Calcium: 90 milligrams.

Better for You Chili

Chili is the perfect meal for cooler days. My version is better for you because it’s light on the beef, packed with vegetables, and features a secret ingredient that boosts flavor and nutrition without overpowering the dish. It’s a good idea to make a double batch of this easy, nutritious dish. It tastes great the next day, too!

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More Beans, Please

I like more beans (technically, legumes) and less meat in my chili to improve nutrition and cut food cost.  Beans supply protein, fiber, potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals, and, as part of a balanced diet, they can help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood that lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. Beans are rich in prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in your gut, which benefits your health in several ways.

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I choose canned, drained beans for the sake of convenience and because I lack the forethought to buy dried beans and soak them! Rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content by as much as 40%.

Have it Your Way

This recipe is flexible.  You can use turkey instead of beef, eliminate the meat and add even more beans to make a vegetarian chili, or use different types of beans, such as white kidney beans and garbanzo beans. Also, I’m a wimp, so I keep the heat to a minimum. Add chili powder, jalapeño peppers, more cumin, or any other spice you like. It’s your choice!

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The Secret Ingredient, Revealed

So, what’s the big secret? A little bit of cocoa powder.  Unsweetened cocoa powder upgrades chili by intensifying the flavor of the meat, and you won’t even know it’s there. Cocoa powder is also good for you.

Cocoa contains antioxidants called flavonoids. While it’s still unclear exactly how flavonoids benefit health, they may help to lower blood pressure, which protects the heart and the brain.

Buy unsweetened cocoa powder that hasn’t been treated with alkaline, which reduces flavonoid content. Avoid Dutch-process cocoa.

Better for You Chili

Makes 6 servings.

8 ounces 95% lean ground beef or 100% ground skinless turkey breast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 28-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, not drained

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the meat, breaking it up into very small pieces as it cooks.  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Remove the meat from the pan. Set the meat aside.

Return the pan to the burner. Add the oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for two minutes or until clear. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute.  Add peppers, and continue to cook until peppers are soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, cocoa powder, and meat to the pan. Combine thoroughly. Cover, and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Per serving:

Calories: 291
Total fat: 9 grams
Saturated fat: 2 grams
Cholesterol: 33 milligrams
Sodium: 586 milligrams
Carbohydrate: 35 grams
Dietary fiber: 10 grams
Protein: 21 grams

 

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No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Quick Bread

 

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No Added Sugar Fruit and Nut Bread

The last thing anyone needs is more sugar. This no-added sugar quick bread is perfect for gifting, bringing to a celebration, and for having on hand for healthy meals and snacks. Dried fruit and bananas provide natural sweetness so there’s no need for other sweeteners.  Almonds and walnuts supply heart-healthy fat, and the recipe calls for oat flour instead of wheat flour to keep this dense, satisfying bread gluten-free and packed with whole grain goodness.

Looking for other ways to reduce sugar intake?

You can mix and match the types of nuts and dried fruits you use, and make 12 muffins out of the batter instead of a single loaf. Enjoy this better-for-you bread with peanut butter or cottage cheese, or pair with eggs or Greek yogurt.

Fruit & Nut Bread
Makes 12 servings.

2 medium ripe bananas, broken into large chunks
2 large eggs
1⁄4 cup canola oil
2 cups oat flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup chopped almonds
3⁄4 cup chopped walnuts
3⁄4 cup dried unsweetened apricots, chopped into small pieces
3⁄4 cup raisins or dried cranberries**

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Coat a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan with cooking spray, and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas until no longer chunky. Using a whisk, add the eggs and canola oil and combine well. Add the oat flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Add the almonds, walnuts, apricots, and raisins, and blend well.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool for 15-20 minutes out of the pan before cutting.

* To make oat flour, place 2 cups of gluten-free one-minute or old fashioned oats in a food processor and process on high speed until oats achieve a powder-like consistency, about 1 minute.

** Most dried sweetened cranberries have some added sugar.

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Mix and match the nuts and dried fruits to your liking!

Per serving (1 slice or 1/12 of the loaf):

Calories: 253
Total fat: 14 grams
Saturated fat: 1 gram
Cholesterol: 35 milligrams
Sodium: 135 milligrams
Carbohydrate: 29 grams
Dietary fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 6 grams
Calcium: 64 milligrams
Iron: 2 milligrams

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

Recipes for energy/granola bars with costly ingredients are a pet peeve of mine, and I thought I could do better making my own. These delicious five-ingredient bars are a less-expensive alternative to store bought, and they are higher in protein than many bars made with whole foods only. Each gluten-free portion provides 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and a serving of whole grains. Have a peanut butter cereal bar for a snack or as part of a balanced meal. See the serving suggestion at the end of this post. Enjoy!

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

To keep this recipe cost-effective, I use store brand ingredients whenever possible.

Any nut butter will do, but store brand peanut butter is the least expensive by far, and I always have it on hand.  Chunky peanut butter provides extra crunch in this recipe. Add 1/3 cup chopped peanuts if you only have smooth peanut butter in the house and you want a crunchier bar.

Honey is often less expensive than pure maple syrup, but it’s not vegan. Honey works just as well as a sweetener and to hold the other ingredients together!

You can use sweetened cranberries or raisins or a combination of the two, or any other dried fruit. However, store-brand raisins are likely to be the least expensive dried fruit, and they don’t contain added sugar. (Learn how to cut back on sugar here.)

If you substitute a higher-fiber whole grain ready-to-eat cereal for what I use, the cost may go up, and it could increase the calorie count.

Need a chocolate fix? Toss 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips into the bar mixture. Using mini chips better distributes the chocolate flavor, so you use less and it costs less!

No-Bake Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

Makes 12 servings.

1 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter (use natural for less added sugar)

1/2 cup California raisins

1/3 cup maple syrup or honey

2 cups quick oats, uncooked

2 cups plain Cheerios or store-brand equivalent

Coat a 8″ x 8″ baking pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients.

Press the bar mixture evenly into the pan.

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Using parchment paper makes clean up a snap!

Refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into 12 squares. Keep refrigerated.

Per serving:
302 calories; 17 grams fat (3 grams saturated fat); 0 cholesterol; 191 milligrams sodium; 31 grams carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber; 10 grams protein.

Serving suggestion: Pair with eight ounces of milk and a banana to include a serving of fruit, dairy, and whole grains, as well as 20 grams of protein, the minimum amount of protein you should have at every meal.

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