“Should I be counting calories?”

Calories count, but so does the quality of the food we are eating. So if you’re trying to manage your weight, go ahead and cut calories, but also choose the right foods in order to eat a combination of all three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. 

“But carbs just lead to weight gain, right?”

Carbohydrates are both the best way to fuel the body and the body’s preferred fuel, which means you will want to eat carbs. Of course, it is important to eat the healthiest carbs. Scientists also point out that our brains use up to 60% of the body’s blood glucose (or sugar). So if you ditch the carbs, you are making it very hard to perform well at school or work, let alone think straight during the simplest of tasks. 

Instead, drop the sodas, candy, pastries, added sugars, and processed foods from your diet as often as possible. In an age where quick fixes and fad diets abound, take the focus off whether or not you should eat like a caveman and just eat real, whole foods. Try common sense eating. Many people focus on eating “low-fat” or “low carb” or “low-calorie,” yet it hasn’t made them healthier or thinner. 

Rather than worry about numbers and restrictions, concentrate on eating minimally processed foods like fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, fish, lean proteins, yogurt, vegetable oils, and whole grains. Your health and weight will naturally fall into a good place, if you are also minding your portions. 

“But I should still avoid bread, right?” 

Wrong. Research indicates that people who regularly consume whole grains have multiple health gains, including a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers. 

A Harvard study published in the January 2015 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who consumed whole grains had a decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease over a 25-year period. People who ate at least 28 grams (a 1-ounce serving) of whole grains per day had a 5% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease related death over the study period than those who ate few or no whole grains. In addition, those who replaced one serving a day of refined grains with whole grains had an 8% lower risk of dying prematurely, and people who replaced one serving of red meat with whole grains reduced their risk of dying prematurely by 20%. 

Eating the bran part of the whole grain had the greatest effect on reducing mortality. This is the outer skin, rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber. 

“So, how do I know if my bread is the healthy, whole grain kind?”

There are several ways to identify a healthy grain. First, make sure a whole grain is the first item on the ingredient list, and then make sure that list doesn’t contain any added sugars. In addition, the Whole Grain Council encourages companies to place the Whole Grain Stamp on packaging if the product contains at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving so that it is easily identifiable by consumers. 

“What about fiber?”

I myself use 3 grams or more of fiber per serving as my benchmark for a good source of fiber. For instance, a whole grain slice of bread (or one serving) that contains 5 grams of fiber would be considered a good fiber source. Another rule of thumb is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed. 

However, a newer recommendation by experts has emerged and seems to be an even simpler way to identify good whole grains. Research that was published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal in December 2013 found that when choosing grains or other carbohydrate rich foods, aim for at least 1 gram of fiber for every 10 grams of total carbohydrates. The recommended amount of daily fiber intake is 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men. That’s a high number to strive for considering the average American only consumes 15 grams per day, but this new 10:1 ratio can make choosing good foods a little easier. Look at your food labels, identify the carbs and fiber, and divide the grams of carbohydrates by 10. If the amount of fiber listed on the label is at least as large as the answer, the food has met the 10:1 ratio. Find and watch my Breadsense video this month where I show you how easy and quick it is to read a label and calculate the 10:1 rule. 

“So I shouldn’t cut out carbs?”

Carbs are a main fuel source for your body so make them part of your daily diet! But keep in mind, the majority of your carb choices should be high quality carbohydrates, preferably whole foods and whole grains containing a good source of fiber. 

 Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information

Ready to put it into practice? Watch Lela’s short tutorial on applying the 10:1 rule.