Is that a good carb or a bad carb?
Carbohydrates can be so confusing, simply because we have been told for so long (over the last 30 years) that we need to eat a TON of carbs…. Like 7-10 servings of grain products each day… ?!?!? (this example from Canada’s Food Guide)… Honestly? How can I eat enough vegetables and protein when I’m stuffing myself full of grains, rice, and potatoes? It’s really an unfair request.
Yes, carbohydrates are important for everyone to eat daily, and we need to understand that it is the type of carbohydrate that makes all the difference.
To simplify this concept, I have created a Hierarchy of Carbohydrates – which ones to eat more often (and focus on getting FIRST), and which ones to limit!
Carbohydrates at every meal or snack:
1. First focus on getting your carbs from non-starchy vegetables (1-2 cups per meal). Vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, Brussel sprouts, celergy, asparagus, rhubard and other stalks, etc. These foods tend to be low in calories and incredibly high in vitamins and minerals and fiber that will help your body and immune system grow strong.
2. Second, after getting in your non-starchy vegetables, then you can consider getting some carbs from starchy vegetables (try to limit these to ½ cup per meal as they will increase your blood sugars, and it doesn’t have to be at every meal… consider leaving them out at 1 meal per day). Starchy vegetables include foods like sweet potato, squash, pumpkin, potato, non-gmo corn, etc. I would also put rice and quinoa here (not that they are starchy vegetables, but they are likely better than grains as they are least processed) – again, focus on the smaller quantities maybe ¼-1/2 cup per meal when you choose to eat them.
3. Third from fruit (~ 3 servings per day is a good maximum for the general population [please note - if you have diabetes or high blood sugars, this may be too much for you – you will need to see how your blood sugars react with this amount and adjust your diet accordingly], focusing first on the fruit with the most fiber like berries, followed by other fruits. Click here for a table of how much fiber is in different kinds of food. 1 serving is ~1/2 cup. Fruit has sugar in it (both glucose and fructose) and too large of a serving will have an effect on blood sugars.
4. Fourth: this is where the grain products like rice, quinoa, bread (ideally a high fibre sour dough bread), pasta, etc come in… these types of starch shouldn’t be our ‘go to’ carbs.. but rather a carb choice after the non-starchy and the starchy vegetables. Again portion size is key. Aim for ¼-1/2 cup of the rice/quinoa/pasta or 1 slice of bread. These sizes look small – and they are! Compared to the Western Diet. But when we couple a meal with 2 cups of vegetables, and a generous amount of fat, and decent amount of protein, then you wont need (and eventually wont crave!) large amounts of grain products.
5. Fifth and least often should be the unhealthy, processed, high-in-sugar carbs like your cookies, cakes, cupcakes, croissants, fried foods like French fries and chips, pop/soda/juice/sweetened beverages, etc. These foods are empty in all the good nutrients, are full of less healthy nutrients, sky rocket blood sugars, and ultimately end up replacing the healthy foods in our diet – focus on 1-2 times per week on average to eat these foods.
An important thing to note is that people living in Western Societies eat far too much carbohydrate - specifically from grains and refined carbohydrates/sweetened beverages. These specific examples of carbohydrate foods increase the inflammation in our bodies which research in now linking to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and maybe even dementia. And we don’t eat enough carbohydrates from non-starchy vegetables (where most of our nutrients and antioxidants are found!). Here are a few references to look at when you have a moment:
By working on balancing meals with carbs from vegetables (First), fat, and protein, we will inevitably eat less carbs and more fats and protein which help to slow down digestion, slow down how quickly blood sugars increase (which helps balance hormones and cravings), and keep us satisfied for much longer.
As always, if you have any questions, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Wishing you the best of health, Eliana