Is Low Carb Better for You?
This week, along with the chicken curry recipe, I’m going to answer one of the age-old low-carb questions that I am frequently asked by clients and friends:
Is low-carb better for you?
This is a complicated question without an easy, pat answer.
First, the answer depends on your goals. If you are looking for high muscle gains or are training for a long-distance race, you will need a sufficient amount of carbs in your diet to power the workouts and provide recovery for your muscles. I would not recommend training for a half marathon and dramatically eliminating carbs at the same time. If you are looking to get leaner on a strength training plan, however, a “low carb” approach is appropriate.
However, I want to point out something very important: in the developed world (the U.S. specifically), our culture is geared towards an extremely high-carb diet. Not just “high-carb” – I would go as far as to say that our eating culture is addictively high-carb and sugary. Therefore, even moderating carbs can feel low-carb, when it is actually just… “lower-carb,” for lack of a better term. The practical application is that probably everyone can moderate their carbs — even people who are training for athletic events.
In other words, it’s all about context. If your typical day starts with a muffin at breakfast, peaks with a sandwich at lunch, and ends with a pasta dinner and a dessert (with crackers, bagels, chips, and sweets mixed in for snacks), curbing your carbs at all is going to feel wildly radical at first. It may feel low-carb, even though it’s just moderate. As I discussed in last week’s post, the difference between crash dieting and making long-term changes, however, is that crash dieting gets harder and harder over time as your body fights the deprivation, whereas permanent shifts feel difficult at first but become easier the longer you maintain the habits.
So before you make any changes, it’s a great idea to actually track your food (with details like grams of carbohydrates) in order to make the best decision for your lifestyle, goals, and current diet.
Your body rejoices at being in balance.
What does this have to do with this fabulous chicken curry lunch?
You’ll notice that this dish uses rice as a side. When I am working with clients to reduce carbohydrates overall (because again, most of us need to take a look at our intake), it is easier to keep carbs included in lunchtime but to reduce carbohydrate intake throughout the afternoon and cut them out in the evening.
Why? Is there some midday metabolic magic?
It’s actually a lot simpler than that. If you’re looking to reduce your carbohydrates overall throughout the day and week, it is better to have a normal amount of carbs at lunch but reduce or eliminate them at night. It will help to lower your overall intake for the day by making a small shift in the right place.
Think about it. What do carbs do for you? They provide energy — and more than just the energy needed for high-intensity exercise. Carbs also provide mental clarity and mood stability. This sharpness is essential in the middle of the day and the afternoon. You need these resources less in the evening, when you are probably powering down for the day. The energy that it takes to basically coast from dinnertime to bedtime is minimal. The energy – and attention/emotional resources – that it takes to make it from lunchtime to dinnertime (or a planned afternoon snack), on the other hand, are tremendous.
In other words, before you start getting snippy with your co-workers because you’ve trimmed the carbs out of your lunch, keep the sandwich at lunch but cut out the pasta at night.
What are the best sources of slow-burning carbs for lunchtime?
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato
Keep in mind that very few foods are truly carbohydrate-free. When you are reading labels (or Googling vegetable nutrition facts), it is rare that you will see a “0 g.” However, the goal is to shift your formal, planned starchy carbohydrate intake to the morning and midday (and early afternoon), and to focus on lean protein and non-starchy, green and colorful vegetables for late afternoon snacks and dinner. We’ll tackle this subject more when dinner meal prep starts next month!
Let’s get started!
The Shopping List
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 5 sweet onions
- 1 head garlic
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons hot chili sauce
- 1 can light coconut milk
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil (separated into separate tablespoons)
- Curry powder to taste
- Green onions for garnish
Start by crushing and peeling an entire head of garlic and chopping the five onions. I know. This is the worst part. Get it over as quickly as you can if you’re crier!
Toss the garlic and onions into a deep saucepan with a tablespoon of coconut oil, and allow to simmer, covered.
Next, I always use 1 lb. of pre-cubed or sliced chicken breasts (I like to cook but don’t want to spend all day in my tiny NYC kitchen with a hot stove on). The pieces should be bite-sized-ish. I toss them into a saute pan with the other tablespoon of coconut oil and A LOT of curry powder, and let them cook through, turning them occasionally. How much curry powder you add depends on your taste!
Meanwhile, your garlic and onions should be softening, browning, and sweating. Add curry powder to the saucepan here as well. If it gets too dry, add some water and let the veggies do their magic thing in the saucepan. They will sweeten and thicken the curry like no additive ever could.
Meanwhile, while you’re waiting for the veggies to finish and for the chicken to cook, combine 1 cup of brown rice with 2 cups of water in a pot, and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn the heat way down and cover with a lid, and leave it alone.
Once the chicken is fully cooked, toss it in with the garlic and onions, and add a generous helping of water – several cups, at least – so that everything is covered. Bring to a boil, then simmer and cover.
On a separate cutting board, take the head of cauliflower and chop the stem away and discard. Chop the remaining cauliflower florets into bite-sized pieces. Add to curry.
Turn the heat off, and stir in the 1 cup of Greek yogurt, the 2 tablespoons of chili hot sauce, and the can of light coconut milk. Salt and pepper to taste.
The brown rice should be done by this time. Divide the brown rice into six equal containers (remember the importance of portion planning), and then pour the curry over the brown rice in each container. Once you’ve finished that, go through each container and make sure there is roughly the same amount of chicken and cauliflower in each container, and do some re-distributing if necessary. Chop up the green onion and garnish.
Snap the lids on and you’re done!