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When you work as a personal trainer or nutritionist, it's common to have clients who are confused about certain categories of foods. Specifically, they may have trouble understanding how some items in that food type are healthy while others are not.
Take fat, for instance. Healthy fats—such as the unsaturated fat found in nuts, seeds, and fish—can be good for the human body. They work by increasing your good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins, or HDL) while lowering your bad cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins, or LDL).
Yet, saturated fat and trans fat, both of which are in many fast foods, can cause you harm. Research has found that they can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and stroke.
The same is true when it comes to carbs. There are healthy carbs, often called "good carbs," that serve a valuable purpose in the human diet. There are also unhealthy carbs, typically referred to as "bad carbs," that aren't quite so kind.
The topic of good carbs versus bad carbs gets even more confusing because some foods can be healthy in their natural state (like blueberries), but unhealthy when manipulated or added to high-fat, high-sugar recipes (think blueberry pie).
How can you help clients better understand these differences so they can make healthier diet choices? This begins with first making sure they know why carbs are so important.
The Mayo Clinic explains that healthy carbohydrates provide a number of benefits. For starters, once their simple sugars are broken down, they give the body energy.
And when you eat whole grains or carbs with a higher number of grams of fiber, this also helps prevent some diseases. Type 2 diabetes is one.
Eating healthy carbs can also make it easier for clients to lose weight. Once the weight is gone, they also make it easier for to maintain that loss long-term.
So, how can clients tell the difference between healthy carbs and bad? The answer lies, in part, as to whether it is a simple carb or a complex carb.
Simple carbohydrates, sometimes called refined carbs, are carbs with no more than two sugar molecules. This makes them easier for the body to break down, which mean that they will also raise your blood sugar faster.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to digest. They don't cause such immediate (or drastic) blood sugar effects.
To help clients understand this concept, use an easy to understand example. Talk about how quickly they feel energy after having a chocolate bar versus the way eating a whole wheat sandwich gives them less of a rush, but supplies energy over time.
Ideally, clients want a steady blood glucose level all day long. This enables them to handle their day-to-day obligations while helping prevent serious issues related to poor blood glucose control. This can include vision loss, kidney failure, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The problem is that not all simple carbs are bad and not all complex carbs are good. So, again, how do clients decide which carbs are healthy and which are not? It can be helpful to supply a handout that includes examples of each.
There are a variety of good, healthy carbs you can suggest your clients eat more of. Among them are:
Whole grains (such as barley, oatmeal, and brown rice)
It can also be helpful to break some of these categories of foods down further. For instance, there are starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables. While both are good in that they have vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber, non-starchy options are often lower in calories. This would be helpful for clients on low-fat diets.
What foods deserve a spot on the "bad carb" list? Any carbs with a lot of high-fructose corn syrup, which includes soda and candy.
This list should also contain a few of the items with a lot of added sugar that clients may not realize. This includes salad dressings, sweetened yogurt, canned fruit, and juice.
Other carbs to limit or avoid are cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, and other packaged foods made with white flour.
Reading nutritional labels is another way to helps clients make better carbohydrate choices.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains that, under the "nutrients" section of a food label, consumers are informed of how many grams of carbs are in one serving. Depending on the item, this could be broken down further. It may also list grams of added sugars and total sugars, the latter of which includes natural sugars as well.
Next to the grams of carbohydrates is a percentage. This number can help identify how many carbs that food has when part of a 2,000-calorie diet. It can also be a guide for whether the food is high-carb or low-carb.
Specifically, if the food contains five percent or fewer carbohydrates, that item would be a good addition to a low-carb diet. Foods that are 20 percent or higher are considered carbohydrate-rich foods. So, clients eating a low-carbohydrate diet might want to avoid these options.
Some clients avoid carbs because they fear that they will make it harder if not impossible to lose weight. Yet, carbs can—and should—be included in their diet, even if their goal is to cut calories for weight loss purposes.
One way to limit the weight gain commonly associated with carbs is to focus more so on low-carb foods. A few options to consider include leafy green vegetables, cauliflower, broccoli, apples, and blueberries.
Another way for clients to eat carbs and still achieve weight loss is to suggest that they engage in carb cycling. This involves creating a diet in which some days they eat very few carbs and others serve as high-carb days.
The benefit of this approach is that it keeps the body from adapting to the same carbohydrate consumption day after day. Their metabolism stays high, as do their leptin levels, which is the hormone that tells your brain when you've had enough food.
Helping clients understand the difference between healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs enables them to make better diet decisions. This is true whether they're worried about weight gain, are trying to improve their blood sugar, or simply want better health.
It's also important to stress that they don't have to eat only healthy carbohydrates, nor do they always have to avoid carbs that are bad. Instead, it's about finding a balance.
Cheat meals are great for this purpose because they enable people to live a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy some of their favorite foods. Having a few high-fat or high-calorie carbs from time to time also prevents the binge-purge cycle that can keep weight loss at bay.
Incorporating a few refined carbs or high-carb foods in the diet can also be achieved by teaching clients about portion control. Help them realize what a true portion or serving looks like so they can better monitor how much they're eating.
Although providing general carb-based guidelines will work for most clients, if you are working with athletes or others who are serious about their fitness, a more precise eating plan may be in order.
To learn more about how to help clients get the best nutrition for their goals, check out ISSA's Nutritionist course. Enroll today and help your active clients better understand how many carbs, fats, and protein they need, as well as the guidelines for their intake of water, vitamins, and minerals.
By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.
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