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Super Basic Food Knowledge - Episode 2, Carbohydrates (Carbs)

Note: If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you should consult a medical professional before choosing a diet rich in carbs. The same applies for those of you who have medical conditions or are taking medications that certain foods will interfere with.

With that said, here we go.......

Who doesn't love carbohydrates? Most people are aware that bread, potatoes, and grains are popular carbs. You may however not be aware of the carb content of other foods. Unfortunately carbs have gotten a bad rap for causing weight gain and gut problems.

Carbohydrates include both sugars and starches as well as fiber. All forms of sugar and starch digest into the simple sugar glucose. Glucose travels in the blood and, with the help of insulin, is taken up for fuel by the muscles to charge your workouts. Fit bodies handle carbohydrates better than unfit bodies. Click the button below to read more. I have found that carbohydrate groupings are as diverse as the foods they represent so I am presenting one view. It is not that important how these are presented as long as you can associate a food as a carb. There are foods that fit into multiple categories. For example, quinoa is a carb but can also be grouped in the protein category. The same applies to beans. Most foods contain some level of carbohydrate with the exception of animal products and pure fats (such as corn oil).

In reality, carbs should be a component of your diet. The 'carbs are bad' slogan is untrue. What is true is that your body is best served when your carb intake comes from unprocessed healthy foods. Carbs, by definition, are not fattening. Excess calories are fattening. If you are eating unprocessed carbs, it is hard to eat too much because they are so filling. If you give them a fair shot, you may actually crave them as people crave sugar. Don't laugh. It's true for me!

I loved this quote I recently read. "Seeing as food doesn’t have a moral value, can we stop using the words “good” and “bad” when it comes to what we eat? It’s not helpful, and it’s actually harmful to our relationship with food. It’s possible to recognize the hierarchy of benefit that certain foods have without demonizing others to the extent of exclusion and restriction."

I am living proof that carbs do not cause weight gain if you choose properly. Practically my entire diet is composed of carbs and I am anything but overweight. Are some people more sensitive to weight gain from carbs than others? Maybe. The literature is contradictory in my opinion. You know your body better than anyone so experiment, but in doing so, you must be an objective observer and not let your mind sway the results.

Information regarding carbohydrates

1. Carbohydrates can contain simple or complex sugars. Complex sugars (you may have heard the term glycemic index) are processed more slowly by your body, The glycemic index is a system of assigning a number to carbohydrate-containing foods according to how much each food increases blood sugar. The purpose of the glycemic index (GI) diet is to eat carbohydrate-containing foods that are less likely to cause large increases in blood sugar levels. The number is based on how much a food item raises blood glucose levels compared with how much pure glucose raises blood glucose. GI values are generally divided into three categories:

  • Low GI: 1 to 55

  • Medium GI: 56 to 69

  • High GI: 70 and higher

Comparing these values, therefore, can help guide healthier food choices but should only be used as a guide. For example, an English muffin made with white wheat flour has a GI value of 77. A whole-wheat English muffin has a GI value of 45. Simple sugar examples are pure cane sugar, other sweeteners, hard candy, marshmallows.

The caution is that associating a single food with a measurement does not account for all of the other foods you may be eating at the same time. Foods affect each other which is why you should eat from multiple food groups with each meal or snack.

2. Simple sugars are intended to provide immediate energy by breaking down into glucose quickly. Complex carbs are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar. They also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs. Too many simple sugars can contribute to weight gain. They can also increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

However, it is important to note that elite athletes who compete may need simple sugars during competition for a quick energy boost. Also, diabetics must always keep a quick sugar source handy in case their blood sugar drops dangerously low unexpectedly. As part of an everyday healthy diet however, it is not necessary to eat processed carbs/simple sugars.

3. Think UNPROCESSED, UNPROCESSED, UNPROCESSED, notice the shouting! It's annoying I know!

Grains, Starches, Cereals

It's hard to limit this discussion to 'basic knowledge' because there are many opinions in the literature and in practice. For example, if you are on a keto diet you probably eat very few carbs of any sort. So, I am coming to this topic as a person who does not believe in specific diets.The critical diet is one that is full of fresh produce and other unprocessed foods.

Cereals are very misleading and yet are a staple of the American breakfast. Almost all commercial major-brand cereals are highly processed with very little natural nutritional value. Food companies fortify their cereals with vitamins so that they can advertise these as health benefits. Not so much. Beating a dead horse here - you want to get your vitamins and minerals by eating the right foods, namely whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies.

I remember thinking that Cheerios were the perfect traveling snack for the car when my kids were just beginning to eat solid food. The driver was that they wouldn't choke on them and of course, all kids love Cheerios. In fact, most kids love all major brand cereals because they taste good. Personally my favorite growing up was Captain Crunch. So I am sympathetic to the plight of parents trying to get their kids to eat healthy. It is anything but easy. It can be very difficult to give these up entirely for yourself and your children. They offer a quick 'go-to' breakfast in the morning that won't provoke a fight.

The same can be said for pastas. Whole grain or legume-based pastas are better than white flour pastas but they are all processed foods and they are equally hard to give up. Try substituting with spaghetti squash, zoodles (zucchini noodles), cauliflower rice, jicama or kohlrabi noodles (Google them!!) I highly recommend owning a spiralizer so you can make noodles out of these vegetables. They are a great inexpensive tool for any kitchen..

Ask yourself how well you perform on highly processed and/or sugary foods. They give you an initial rush of energy followed by a low energy period. Is that the best way to conduct your day? Is that the best way for children to learn? In a sense you are going through a high->withdrawal cycle in a very short time period. Can you try a healthier option such as steel-cut oatmeal or other whole grain hot cereal? Overnight oats are delicious, easy, and ready when you wake up. Other options for breakfast include; apple and peanut butter (no processed nut butters please!), sweet potato or winter squash with fruit. A reminder - there are levels of processing. NONE____MINIMALLY___________HIGHLY. Stay close to the left hand side (non or minimally).

For snacks, try popcorn, roasted chickpeas with a piece of fruit, or cut up carrots and celery dipped in mustard, or peanut butter. READ THE LABELS before buying canned, jarred or bottled foods. Peanut and other butters are great when they only contain the nut. Once they start adding sugars, fats, and even salt (depends on how much is added), the goodness goes out the door. The only way to be sure you are getting unadulterated food is to read the label and not listen to the advertising! Whole grain crackers (another good example of having to read the label) with a slice of avocado, tomato, and sprouts is another good snack. Portion size is important but rather than counting calories or measuring, be mindful when you are eating and stop when satisfied, not full!

In addition to starch, plant-based carbs provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Below I have provided a table that provides one breakdown of carbs based on how I think about them.


Carbohydrate Type



Starchy vegetables

potatoes, winter squashes such as butternut and acorn, corn, lima beans, peas. There are so many squash varieties - try some new ones like delicata and honeynut. Delicious!


Other vegetables

leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, celery, eggplant, green beans



melons, berries, apples, citrus, stone fruit, pears, etc.



lentils, split peas, quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oats, barley, kamut, millet, amaranth, buckwheat groats (too many to list all - experiment!)



milk, yogurt, cheese


Processed foods

cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, candy, cookies, cake, pie, snacks such as chips, pretzels, most crackers

The last 2 categories should be eaten in limited quantities.

Veggies are great because they have a lot of fiber and make you feel full faster. You can also eat all you want of most green vegetables and there are endless variations, both raw and cooked. Experiment with greens you haven't tried before. People often use the 'they are too bitter' defense but not all greens are bitter. Some of the milder greens include spinach and swiss chard. We all know kale has become a bit of a 'thing' but it really is delicious, and there are more than 10 varieties. To remove the bitterness, squeeze lemon juice over the kale after washing and message it between your hands for a minute. Even if it isn't your fav, try incorporating into soups, stews and casseroles. The other ideal property of greens is that varieties are grown around the world and are available all year long. So if you are eating locally according to season, you can rely on these staples. Of course, don't forget broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts.

With that said, advertising can rope you in to consuming "false healthy foods." Avoid products that are touted as "kids will love this cauliflower" etc.. The cauliflower they are referring to is coated in flour, deep fried, and smothered with cheese. It is highly processed. Checking the ingredients is the only way to know what you are buying and most highly advertised vegetable products don't "count" in my book as vegetables. An honest and clean fruit or veggie has no ingredient label - it doesn't need one - it is simply the plum or the broccoli. If you hate vegetables as many people do, there are ways to make them more palatable without using processed varieties.

Here is the order to think about when eating a balanced diet which always includes vegetables. These are ranked least to most processed so the lower the number the better. #s 4 and 5 could rank #3 and 4. They rank about the same as 3.


  1. Fresh, in season, organic, local

  2. Fresh, in season, non-organic, local

  3. Fresh, but possibly coming from far away , organic and non-organic- I am really not sure where I would rank these.

  4. Frozen, organic, nothing added, local

  5. Frozen, organic, nothing added, comes from far away

  6. Frozen, non-organic, nothing added

  7. Canned, organic, without salt if possible

  8. Canned, non-organic without salt if possible

  9. Everything else, canned or frozen vegetables with additions such as butter or cheese, pre-prepared foods that contain vegetables along with many other ingredients.


The same advice holds true as was provided for vegetables. A strawberry shortcake does not count as a fruit but a bowl of strawberries does. A can of fruit cocktail is not really fruit. Fruits are also loaded with vitamins and minerals and can be consumed freely with a bit of restraint. Some fruits are higher in sugars than others. Pineapple, tropical fruits, coconut, dried fruits, bananas, prunes, avocados, figs, dates are examples. It doesn't mean you need to avoid them but small quantities in moderation is advised.

Note: Avoid Juices - they are processed foods, high in calories and sugar. You are rarely getting the benefit of the vitamins and minerals that are contained in the actual fruit. Juices might be one item that diabetics and competitive athletes keep with them for a quick burst of sugar but for most people, not advised.

One other thing I want to mention. When I said earlier that carbs have gotten a bad rap, it includes the concept of root and nightshade fruits and vegetables. You have probably at least heard these terms. Popular nightshades are eggplant, potatoes, peppers. I don't want to provide a lot of detail but it is very important that you understand the science behind these foods. I encourage everyone to become educated regardless of your choice to eat them or not.

Are you more confused than ever or did this help clarify anything a tiny bit. I would love to know your honest opinion. Contact me!!


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