Odunayo Abdulai: Carbohydrates are Not the Enemy


If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, I’m sure you’ve heard people advise that you stop eating rice, bread, plantain, and all the other carbohydrates. In fact, I’ve heard some people say things like, once they smell rice, they add 5kg.

It’s unfortunate that carbohydrates have been demonised, all in the name of weight loss. But I’m going to explain how you can enjoy your carbs and still get results. First, though, let’s discuss what you are likely doing wrong,

The standard Nigerian meal comprises of a lot of carbs, a moderate amount of protein, which is many times fried, lots of cooking oil, and very little vegetables and fruits or none at all. This combination is a recipe for excess calories and eventual weight gain. Notice how I said “excess calories.”

You gain weight only when you eat more calories than you need, and these calories come from all the different classes of food, including your carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables and fats and oils. Even if you exclude carbohydrates, but eat too many calories from the other classes, you’ll still gain weight. So the problem is not the carbohydrates in themselves.

It is important, however, that we appreciate how the different classes vary in their calorie density. Vegetables have very little calories, which is why you can eat a lot of it without bothering much. Fruits have a moderate number of calories, and thanks to the high fiber and water content, they tend to be very filling.

On the other hand, carbohydrates and protein are generally calorie dense, and should be eaten only moderately. Lastly, we have our fats and oils, which are the most calorie dense by far, and should be consumed in small amounts. The most common ways we consume fats are via fried foods, soups, dressings, and nuts of all kinds.

Now, let’s discuss the solution.

You’ve probably heard of portion control, but today I’m going to make it more practical. One of the simplest ways to get your portions right is through “The Plate Method,” which I’ve described below:

  • Get a plate that’s a little smaller than the regular flat plate.
  • Visually split the plate into two and fill one half with any vegetables of choice. It can be a salad, okra, vegetable soup, and so on. Just ensure it has lot of vegetables in it and small amounts of oil or dressing.
  • Now, for the second half of the plate, divide that into two quarters, and fill one quarter with a carbohydrate of choice. It can be rice, pasta, plantain, pounded yam – take your pick.
  • The last quarter of the plate should house your protein. It’s important you don’t add unnecessary calories from oil by frying it. You can grill, boil or roast it; frying should be seldom.
  • For your fruits, have a small size two to three times a day, with your meals or as a snack.

Notice the difference in portions when compared to the standard Nigerian meal? The issue is not the components of the meals, but the quantity of the different components. Making the adjustments stated above – increasing vegetables and reducing carbohydrates and oils – will go a long way in getting you on a healthier path, without needing to give up your beloved carbohydrates.

Have a question for me? Feel free to ask in the comments.

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