Getting your Ratios Locked In
There are 5 things I look for to define great carbohydrate habits that are going to result in success:
1. Ratio 1: calories to volume
The amount of food you’re taking in compared to the number of calories it provides is an important factor.
If you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape, calorie-dense foods are a bad choice. More food volume (more food per calorie) is a great way to stay full without slamming down 1000s of unnecessary calories.
This is one of the key problems with processed or sugary carbs: they are almost 100% calorie dense most of the time. Meanwhile, higher-quality carbs like wholegrains are much more satisfying per calorie and will keep you full without the calorie content.
This is a great way to understand what you’re putting in your body and allows you to take back control of your diet.
2. Ratio 2: fiber to sugar
This is related to the calorie-density, but is important all by itself. The ratio of fiber to sugar in a carb tells us a lot about how it’s going to affect your digestion and metabolism.
Sugar isn’t bad for you, but a diet that is rich in sugar and low in fiber is metabolically unsustainable. This is one of the key factors in the development of conditions like pre-diabetes, where sugar intake damages hormonal-metabolic processes.
Good carbs have some fiber and less sugar. This is the difference between a slice of bread and corn on the cob: one is packed with fiber while the other is a mixture of rapidly-absorbing sugars and simple starches.
Better fiber intake is great for everything from digestion to cholesterol levels, and is the cornerstone of a quality diet.
3. Nutrient density
This is like calorie-density, but instead of the amount of calories per cm of food, it’s about how many micronutrients you get per calorie. This is the key factor for what we normally call ‘healthy’ foods.
It’s a measure of the vitamin and mineral content of your food which – obviously – makes for a better carbohydrate. This is why pulses like red kidney beans are great, while our last example of sweetcorn isn’t quite as strong.
Vitamins and minerals are crucial for proper energy metabolism, as well as supporting almost every process in the body. The odds are strong that you’re not at optimal levels, and proper carb choice is one of the best ways to get around this kind of problem.
This is a classic measure of the health and quality of a food and it’s why you already know that broccoli is healthier than heaped teaspoons of white sugar. Keep your eye on the vitamin and mineral content of your carb intake.
4. Does it do other things?
This is perhaps the main reason that you can tell a lot about someone’s diet from the carbs they choose.
A good carbohydrate source isn’t just a carbohydrate. When we look at kidney beans or oats, they don’t just offer carbs: pulses like beans contain protein and micronutrients. Plant foods like these are replete with micronutrients and support your body across all systems.
A good carb source is diverse: if it offers protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, then it’s a top quality food choice! This is a thing we see with tons of plant-based carb sources and it just another reason you should try and incorporate staple plant foods into your diet!
Learn to make a good bean casserole and quality porridge and you’re well on your way.
5. Processed vs Whole
This is one you’re probably familiar with by now. It’s not always the case that processed foods are bad – but a diet based on more wholefoods is always a good choice.
There are a ton of quality plant foods that are best consumed whole. Things like corn on the cob and beans have already gotten attention in this article but it even applies to less conventionally healthy foods.
For example, there’s a huge difference between a potato and a potato waffle when it comes to nutrition. This isn’t a traditionally healthy food, but it does offer so much more as a jacket potato than when it’s mashed and fried.
Whole plant foods are one of the best sources of carbs for every other factor we’ve discussed so far, and keeping them whole preserves all of these qualities.
The idea is a simple one: work towards a majority of your carbs coming from wholefoods. Over time, a good diet slowly progresses to an increasingly wholefood diet – with occasional refined.
Proper carb habits are those that offer value beyond the glucose-energy that your body needs. It’s important to get these into your diet, but the contribution to protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals define the quality of your overall diet.
When you’re trying to get your diet together, work on your relationship with carbs. Making better choices here will clean up a ton of other areas and make success easier. It’s a great place to start working on habits and you’ll see changes everywhere else in your training and physique.
I can tell a lot about someone’s diet from their carb choices: what will your carb habits say about you?