The carb coma. Everyone knows what I’m talking about, and surely I am guilty of letting myself get into one every now and then.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, the link between eating carbohydrates and then wanting more carbohydrates. When you give in to a carb-fest, it isn’t long before fatigue, fullness and lack of motivation set in!

A friend of mine recently commented about a funeral luncheon she attended and how all of the food was pasta bakes, different versions of potato casseroles, and desserts. She left feeling bloated and tired. I can relate. Why is it that a get-together or a potluck where everyone is supposed to bring a side dish turns into guests filling plates full of pasta salad after pasta salad? I guess it’s easy to prepare carbs, they taste good, everyone likes them, and they are a less expensive dish to make.

When we digest carbohydrates, our blood sugar rises as the food breaks down into starches and eventually simple sugars. If we eat mostly carbs and don’t take notice to include protein, fiber and healthy fats, our insulin levels rise sharply to shuttle sugar out of our blood and into our cells. Thus, blood sugar falls, and that is when the carb coma hits! Fatigue, nausea and sometimes bloating occur. Other people experience GI distress such as cramping, due to a fast movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine.

It only takes about an hour for carbohydrate to move on from the stomach. In comparison, it can take twice that long for protein to leave, and three times that long for fats to exit.

So what do we do to avoid the carb coma at potlucks? The obvious answer is to bring your own non-carbohydrate dish, such as a green salad. Or at least bring a whole-grain complex carbohydrate side, such as a pasta salad that includes beans, quinoa and lentils. Guests will likely welcome your different dish, and it could be easier to prepare than Aunt Jo’s famous potato casserole.

As you fill your plate, focus on the main course, assuming it is a protein. Fill at least half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, and browse the options before filling the last small section of your plate with a carbohydrate choice. Try to include some heart healthy fats, such as a small handful of mixed nuts or a light vinaigrette salad dressing. Go easy on the dessert, and determine ahead of time whether it is worth it to indulge.

Another helpful action is to eat before going to these events. Excuses such as, “We had another event to attend before this” or “I already ate, but this (insert your non-starchy choice) really looks great. I better try some!” work well. It won’t bother the host if you state your excuse and stick to it. It is likely that the host won’t notice anyway!

The general healthy eating rules apply to potlucks. Drink water between bites and leave some food on your plate. Remember what the carb coma feels like, and avoid the dessert table whenever possible. If you make note of your successes, at least mentally, it will get easier in the future to avoid yet another carb coma.

Bring your own non-starchy side dish:

Mandarin Salad

  • 2 tablespoons no-sugar-added orange marmalade
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 cups raw spinach leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained

Whisk marmalade, soy sauce, and vinegar. Whisk in oil. Add spinach and oranges and toss to coat, or save this step until you get to the event to avoid wilting spinach. Season with pepper.

The oranges in this salad help you absorb the iron from the spinach. Double the recipe for a larger group.

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