Protein and carbs are two of the most important food groups to include in your diet. They’re considered to be macronutrients, which means they contain large amounts of energy, and they are essential for good health.
There are many ways to get protein into your diet, including by eating meat, poultry and fish. But if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to know that you can get all the protein you need from plant sources like beans, lentils and nuts.
Carbs are also an essential part of a healthy diet but some people think carbs are bad because they can cause weight gain. But if you eat the right ones at the right times of day, then carbs won’t be a problem!
Food With Protein And Carbs
Along with fat, protein and carbohydrates are nutrients that provide calories to your diet and fuel your body’s processes. Protein also contributes to muscle growth, tissue repair, immune health, hormone production and enzyme synthesis. A wide variety of foods supply either protein or carbohydrates, while some offer both. Including them in a well-balanced diet promotes optimal health by giving you these nutrients as well as essential fats, vitamins and minerals.
Animal-based foods are one of the richest sources of protein you can consume. They are particularly beneficial because they are nutritionally complete proteins, meaning it provides the essential amino acids your body can’t produce and must receive from your diet. These protein sources also furnish additional nutrients. Red meat, for example, gives you iron, while fish supplies heart-healthy fats. Milk and milk products offer calcium, and these foods are also a source of carbohydrate due to their lactose, or milk sugar, content. Other animal sources of protein include poultry and eggs.
Legumes – peas, dry beans, peanuts and lentils, for instance – contribute both protein and carbohydrates to your meal plan. Because their protein content does not include all essential amino acids, they are considered to be lower quality than the protein from animal sources. However, combining complementary sources of these incomplete proteins, such as legumes with whole grains, provides you with the full range of essential amino acids. Legumes are a rich source of carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. These types of carbohydrates are a healthy addition to your diet because they don’t cause a drastic spike in your blood sugar when you eat them.
Whole grains supply you with significant carbohydrates along with a smaller amount of protein. Similar to legumes, the protein in grains is nutritionally incomplete, but consuming rice, barley, whole wheat or oats, for example, with legumes creates a high-quality protein to support your cells and tissues. Also similar to legumes, whole grains are a source of healthy, low-glycemic index carbohydrates. In addition, these foods contribute dietary fiber that promotes digestive health.
Nuts, Seeds, Fruits and Vegetables
Nuts and seeds are another source of both protein and carbohydrates. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds contribute lower-quality protein that, in combination with either legumes or whole grains, offer a complete protein. Nuts and seeds also add carbohydrates and unsaturated fats to your diet. Some fruits and vegetables, especially the ones containing seeds you eat, supply limited amounts of protein, but their primary contribution is dietary carbohydrates in the form of sugars and starches. Apples, bananas, oranges and carrots are examples of foods that exhibit a low glycemic index that can help modulate your blood sugar. Fruits and vegetables also contribute vitamins, minerals and fiber to your diet.
High protein and high carb meals may be important for labor workers, bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts and endurance athletes. High carbohydrate and protein meals provide a balance of nutrients than improves energy levels and stamina throughout the day.
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A meal including high protein, high carb foods is appropriate for helping the body recover after a long hard day of work or after an exercise session. Choose lean protein and healthy carbs for the best results. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fewer than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugars and the same applies to saturated fats.
Read more: How Much Protein Is Right For You?
High Carb, High Protein Diet
Include carbs and protein throughout the day as part of a high carb, high protein diet. The importance of starting your day off right with a balanced, high carbohydrate and protein meal will fuel your day ahead and stabilize your blood sugars after an evening fast.
Healthy options include slow-cooked or steel-cut oatmeal and egg whites; a breakfast burrito with a whole-wheat tortilla, eggs and low-fat cheese; or whole-grain pancakes topped with blueberries and low-sugar syrup served with a side of lean turkey sausages.
Other unique grains, such as cooked buckwheat or bulgur or puffed millet or muesli cold cereals, can be experimented with for breakfast. Sweeten your grains naturally with a touch of cinnamon, honey, stevia, brown sugar or molasses. While there are plenty of high carb vegetables available, vegetarian protein options for breakfast include low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds, according to the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine.
High carbohydrate and protein lunch options include whole-grain sandwiches with lean deli meat, tuna or nut butter; vegetable-based soups and stews that contain lean poultry or beef; tacos with whole-wheat or corn tortillas and lean poultry or meats; or a wok stir fry with rice, vegetables and tofu or seafood.
High carbohydrate and protein dinners include flank or bottom round steak and high carb vegetables such as sweet potatoes or yams; brown rice and skinless chicken breast; brown rice or whole-wheat penne pasta tossed with grilled chicken; spaghetti made with whole-wheat pasta, lean ground meat and marinara sauce; quinoa and grilled fish; or wild rice and legumes as a vegetarian option.
Read more: How Much Carbs, Fat and Protein Should You Eat Daily to Lose Weight?
High Carb, High Protein Snacks
High carbohydrate and protein snacks are important to eat in between meals to stabilize energy levels and control cravings. In fact, the Mayo Clinic website recommends eating snacks high in fiber to help you feel satiated for longer periods of time. Fruits are an excellent source of carbohydrates for a snack. Ideally, consume 2 to 4 cups of fruit per day.
Protein-containing snacks include string cheese, yogurt, nuts and seeds. High carbohydrate and protein snack examples include: peanut butter and jelly sandwich; trail mix made with dried fruits and nuts; whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese; fruit and yogurt.
A high carbohydrate meal would contain 2 to 4 servings of a carbohydrate source. One serving example would be 1 slice of bread; 5 whole-grain crackers; 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, hot cereal or rice; 1 small piece of fruit. Each serving provides anywhere from 15 to 30 g of carbohydrates. A high protein meal would consist of 3 to 6 oz. of lean protein, such as chicken, fish, turkey, beef, bison, eggs and low-fat dairy products.
Each ounce provides approximately 7 g of protein and a high protein meal would total 21 to 42 g of protein. Vegetarian options would be lower in protein and may only yield about 21 g of protein at the most.
low carb foods
Low-carb diets limit the number of carbohydrates a person eats. Instead of carbs, people focus on eating proteins, healthful fats, and vegetables.
Carbohydrates or carbs are one of three main food types that the body needs to work properly. The other two are protein and fat. Carbs give the body energy. The body breaks carbs down to use immediately or later.
If the body does not need to use the carbs for energy as soon as a person eats them, it stores them in the muscles and liver to use later. However, if the body does not use these stored carbs, the body converts them to fat.
Ten low-carb diet tips
Many people find following a low-carb diet challenging, particularly at the beginning of the diet. The following low-carb diet tips might help people stick to their diet and may help them lose weight successfully.
1. Knowing what foods are low-carb
Low-carb foods include:
- lean meats, such as sirloin, chicken breast, or pork
- leafy green vegetables
- cauliflower and broccoli
- nuts and seeds, including nut butter
- oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil, and rapeseed oil
- some fruit, such as apples, blueberries, and strawberries
- unsweetened dairy products including plain whole milk and plain Greek yogurt
2. Know the carb counts and serving sizes of foods
Most low carb diets only allow for 20 to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day. Because of this, it is essential that people following low-carb diets choose foods that have a lower carb count but a high nutritional value per serving.
The foods in the quantities listed below all contain approximately 15 g of carbs:
- 1 tennis ball sized apple or orange
- 1 cup of berries
- 1 cup of melon cubes
- ½ medium banana
- 2 tablespoons of raisins
- 8 ounces of milk
- 6 ounces of plain yogurt
- ½ cup corn
- ½ cup peas
- ½ cup beans or legumes
- 1 small baked potato
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice
While the foods listed above all contain roughly equal amounts of carbohydrates, they are not all nutritionally equivalent. The dairy products on the list contain protein and vital nutrients, such as Vitamin D and calcium in addition to the carbohydrate content.
The fruit and vegetables also contain essential vitamins and minerals. Choosing whole-grain varieties of bread and rice will provide more nutrients than white varieties, even though the carb content is similar.
3. Make a meal plan
A meal plan can help make things easier.
Anyone trying to follow a low-carb diet could try mapping out their week and plan all meals before heading to the grocery store.
Planning meals in advance can help people stick to the diet.
Knowing what they are going to eat for lunch and dinner can help a person avoid making unhealthful food choices, such as stopping at a fast food restaurant.
Meal planners are available for purchase online.
4. Meal prep
Planning is one thing, but preparing meals ahead of time can also help. Meal prep can help a person:
- avoid making unhealthful food choices
- save time during busier times of the week
- save money
Some people like to prepare a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches ahead of time and store the meals in containers, so they are convenient and ready to go. It is possible to freeze some meals too, meaning people can prepare even more food in advance.
Having lots of pre-prepared meals on hand can help people avoid choosing less healthful options.
Popular low-carb meals to prepare in advance include:
- egg muffins
- Greek yogurt bowls
- protein pancakes
- chicken lettuce wraps
- protein and vegetable stir fry with no rice
5. Carry low-carb snacks
Low-carb snack options for between meals include:
- hard boiled eggs
- unsweetened yogurt
- baby or regular carrots
- handful of nuts
It is essential to regulate portion size of any snacks to avoid overeating.
6. Consider carb cycling
Carb cycling involves eating very low-carb foods for a set amount of days, followed by one day of eating higher carb meals. This helps the body avoid fat-burning plateaus that can develop after weeks of low-carb dieting.
Carb cycling is not for everyone, and anyone considering it should talk to their doctor or nutritionist first.
7. Not all carbs are created equal
Carbs come in different forms.
Simple carbs consist of easy to digest sugars. Refined and processed carbs, such as white sugar and white flour, are simple carbs.
People who are starting on a low-carb diet need to think about reducing their intake of refined and processed carbs. Avoiding these carbs will be beneficial for reaching an ideal weight and for health in general.
However, not all simple carbs are created equal. Fruits include fructose, which is a simple carb, but eating fruit is recommended in a low-carb diet, as it is loaded with nutrients and is a whole-food source of carbs.
Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, as they need to be broken down into a simpler form. Complex carbs are found in more nutrient-rich foods, such as beans, whole-grains, and fiber-rich fruits, such as bananas.
Complex carbs also have the added benefit of making a person feel full faster, which might prevent them from overeating. Complex carbs also make people feel full for longer, which might help them avoid snacking between meals.
8. Be aware of alternatives
Substituting low-carb or no-carb foods for high-carb foods can help reduce carb intake.
Some low-carb substitutions include:
- lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
- portobello mushroom caps instead of buns
- baked butternut squash fries
- eggplant lasagna
- cauliflower pizza crust
- spaghetti squash instead of noodles
- zucchini ribbons instead of pasta
9. Exercise appropriately
Exercise is an important part of overall health. People should avoid a sedentary lifestyle but refrain from excessive exercising.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommend that adults do moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week for a minimum 10 minutes at a time for moderate health benefits. For optimal health benefits, the CDC recommend 300 minutes of exercise. The CDC also suggest that people lift weights or do other strength training exercises to improve overall health.
Those on low-carb diets may want to avoid long periods of intense activity such as distance running. This is because people who are doing a form of exercise that requires extra endurance, such as marathon training, will need extra carbohydrates to fuel their bodies.
10. Use common sense
People should know about potential health risks before starting a low-carb diet.
Short-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
- high cholesterol
- brain fog
- lack of energy
- bad breath
- reduced athletic performance
Long-term health risks caused by a low-carb diet may include:
- nutritional deficiencies
- loss of bone density
- gastrointestinal problems
Some people should not follow a low-carb diet unless instructed to do so by a doctor. These groups of people include those with kidney disease and teenagers.
Not everyone will benefit from, or should even consider, a low-carb diet. Anyone thinking about doing a low-carb diet should speak with a doctor before starting.