Most people have a love-hate relationship with carbs, but remember, not all carbs are created equal. Moreover, they’re not all bad.
“The body’s primary source of energy is carbs. The brain and body both prefer carbohydrates for fuel. So if you’re craving carbs, it’s likely that your body needs carbs for energy,” explains registered dietitian and nutritionist Kaleigh McMordie. “Eating too little, especially too few carbs, sends the body into ‘starvation mode.’ [This] increases cravings, especially for quick energy sources like sugar and simple carbohydrates.”
Choosing overly processed, simple carb options will only briefly satisfy your hankering, leaving you hungry again an hour later. So, what should you eat when you’re craving carbs? Reach for one of these dietitian-approved snacks.
Whole-Grain Toast With Avocado
Particularly after a night of one too many beers or when your hormones feel out of whack, you may lust after a cheesy, melty, gooey sandwich. It’ll hit the spot at the moment, but, you need something more fulfilling to keep you from endlessly snacking.
McMordie says whole grains are a smart carb option and the avocado contributes healthy fats. “The fiber of whole grain makes it stick with you longer and causes a steady rise in blood sugar versus a sharp spike that you get from simple carbohydrates,” she explains. “The additional fiber and healthy fat from the avocado also provide satiety. So you don’t feel hungry in an hour.”
Even though you know chips aren’t stellar for you, there’s something about the crunch that’s instantly gratifying. To achieve this same feel-good sensation without the empty calories, Ken Immer, chief culinary officer of Culinary Health Solutions, suggests this smart buy. He turns to these jicama chips when he needs a crunchy snack but vegetables don’t cut it.
“These satisfy that crunch and sweetness that carbs deliver, and because they are fiber filled, they actually don’t spike blood sugar. [They] fill your belly, so you can be happy with just a few bites,” he says.
Hummus With Whole-Grain Crackers
When you can’t stop dreaming about pizza, take a moment to consider the breakdown of your favorite pie. Does it provide all elements of the food groups that a healthy diet requires? Or does it leave you lacking? McMordie says choosing foods that combine high fiber, protein (this is our favorite), carbs, and fat will ensure that you listen to your hunger without selecting a poor option.
She recommends a classic hummus and whole-grain crackers combo. You’ll get a serving of all elements, and you won’t get too bored of a super low-carb option, like baby carrots and celery.
Spindrift Sparkling Water
Immer says more often than not, you may simply be thirsty when you’re craving carbs. That’s why it’s recommended to drink up before you decide to have that 3 p.m. snack break—but you shouldn’t pick soda.
Reach for this healthy variety if H2O isn’t appetizing to you. “With no added sugar—just the natural sweetness from the fruit or vegetable juice that they add to the water—it is a good solution to hydration,” he explains. “The act of drinking satisfies my need, and carbonation is about as exciting as a crispy chip. The bulk of the water fills my belly. And the flavor sensation keeps me from thinking that all I did was drink some boring water.”
Meat and Cheese
Before or after a workout, you need protein to help your muscles prepare or recover. That’s why carbs aren’t the best pick. But this meat and cheese snack is, according to Immer.
He first discovered these at—believe it or not—a gas station and has sworn by them since. “The spicy salami is such a flavor burst. And then the cheese keeps you from swallowing too quickly, so you have to take your time.
By the time I get to the end of the stick, I’m actually so excited about this as a treat that I’m not even remembering why I reached out for it in the first place. So that carb craving is simply a distant memory replaced by this yumminess and a definite longer-term energy source,” he explains.
Registered dietitian Lisa DeFazio reaches for carbs when she’s craving carbs. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s more about retraining yourself to crave the right kinds of carbs than avoiding them altogether.
“Eating high-fat processed foods makes you gain weight, not healthy real-food carbs,” she says. “I eat rice, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, peas, corn, corn tortillas, oatmeal, high-fiber bread, and pasta.” She explains that by indulging in the right portions of the right carbs, she craves unhealthy carbs less.
“When you give yourself permission to eat the carbs your body needs, you will not be hungry and have to be in a constant feeling of deprivation. It’s not a way to live every day,” she says.
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