Nearly every day I meet or overhear a conversation at the check-out line from someone who’s cutting out carbs to lose weight. You, too? So, this article is dedicated to carbs…everything you want to know in 5 minutes.
Q: What are carbs?
A: Sugars, starches, and fiber
Q: What foods contain carbohydrates?
A: Sweeteners like sugar, maple syrup, and honey are 100% carbohydrate. Other foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains (flour, cereal, bread, pasta, rice, and more), pulses (beans and peas), milk and yogurt contain some carbohydrates.
Q: What foods don’t
A: meat, eggs, cheese, fish and seafood, oil, butter, seasoning
Q: Are carbs bad for us?
A: No. All carbs are NOT created equal. Many are loaded with essential nutrients to keep us healthy. Others, like table sugar, are “empty calories” and contain just sugar…and nothing else.
Q: What are some other “empty
A: Sugar (white or brown), syrups (maple, agave, brown rice), marshmallows, jello, and soda are 100% “empty calorie” sugar. Cakes, cookies, ice cream, and pies contain a lot of “empty calorie” sugar as well.
Q: Do we actually NEED
carbs? I hear conflicting information.
A: Yes, our body need carbs for several reasons. One is that carbs turn into a sugar (glucose) that the body needs to stay alive. Our brain at just 2% of our body weight, requires 25% of all the calories we need in a day – and it only uses glucose. Red blood cells that carry oxygen also require glucose.
Q: Can’t our body make
glucose from body fat?
A: You wish! No, we can’t convert body fat into glucose. The body CAN convert some proteins into glucose…hence why people on low carb diets don’t die. But, proteins simply don’t have the same nutrients that carbs do.
Q: If our body requires
“sugar”, why does everyone say it’s bad for us?
A: Any carbohydrate will turn into “sugar” (or glucose) in the body. So, it’s best to select carbs that are nutrient-rich, rather than empty calorie sugars. And, don’t forget, anything in excess is harmful.
Q: What are some other
reasons we should eat carbs?
A: Many carbohydrates contain nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) that we just can’t find in other foods. Proteins and fats don’t contain any fiber.
Q: I’ve heard that some fibers aren’t
digestible? Does that mean we shouldn’t eat them?
A: Non-digestible fiber helps to make us feel full. 25-30g of fiber are recommended daily for a number of reasons. Fiber intake promotes a healthy gut and can lower our risk of colon cancer. They also help to lower our blood glucose (blood sugar) and our bad cholesterol.
Q: What are some
examples of nutrient-rich carbs?
A: Broccoli, banana, black beans, apple, squash, potatoes, pinto beans, kale, green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, whole grain bread, oatmeal, and so many more foods.
Q: I have diabetes. So,
shouldn’t I avoid carbohydrates so my blood sugar (glucose) doesn’t get too
A: Your body requires glucose. If you eat low carb, the body will convert protein into glucose anyway. And, that’s not good on your kidneys. It’s better to choose carbohydrates that have a lower glycemic index.
Q: What’s a glycemic
A: That term refers to how fast carbs turn into glucose once you eat them. Some will bring up your blood glucose in minutes (think soda, white bread, white rice) so they “spike” your blood glucose – giving you a quick fix followed by an energy crash. Others give you a slow and steady rise over a couple of hours (beans, oatmeal).
Q: Other than an energy
crash, is there any other reason to limit high glycemic foods?
A: Yes, for several reasons. That energy crash can make you feel hungrier – potentially causing you to overeat. Also, the pancreas responds to that rush of sugar by secreting lots of insulin. Overtime that could lead to insulin resistance – where your body doesn’t effectively use insulin, and then diabetes.
Q: Does that mean I
have to give up sugar completely?
A: No. Just limit these foods to 5-10% of your total calories. So, if you’re eating 2000 calories, that’s 100-200 calories. So, if you want sugar in your morning coffee, you might want to skip the afternoon soda. Just be selective.
Q: Is there a good time
to eat the high glycemic foods?
A: If you really like high glycemic foods, consume them right after intense exercise. That way the body will convert the “sugars” into “glycogen” which is stored glucose in your muscles. This will help you workout faster and harder at the next intense workout.
Q: So, can I lose
weight while eating carbs?
A: Yes, of course.
Q: How low do the low
carb diets go?
A: It depends. While a healthy, well-balanced Mediterranean diet contains around 250 grams of carb, some low carb diets recommend limiting carbs to 100-150 grams. Others are eating less than 50 grams of carbs so they can reach “ketosis”.
Q: What’s ketosis?
A: The idea is that you’ll burn more body fat. But, if you calculate the calories in those diets…they’re simply very low calorie diets. Most people can’t stick with these low-calorie diets for very long – and you’re back on the rollercoaster of weight gain/loss. Plus, they’re deficient in essential nutrients.
Q: Nutrition labels are confusing. How
can I read them?
A: You’re not alone. “Total carbohydrates” (often bolded) refers to sum total of what’s listed underneath – sugars, added sugars, and fiber.
Q: I’ve been avoiding milk because I’m
reading on the label that a cup has 12g carbs – and they’re ALL “sugar”. Why
are they adding sugar to my milk?
A: They’re not. It’s just that the carbohydrate in fruits and milk (and plain yogurt) are classified as “sugar” (because they are short chains). So, if the ingredient list shows just milk – or just fruit, then all those “sugars” are natural sugars.
Q: I don’t see “added sugar” on this
A: This is a new addition to the nutrition label (by law). And, not all companies have revised their labels yet.
Q: I’ve heard the term “net carb”.
What does that mean?
A: Since fiber is not digested (it passes through into your stools), some people subtract that number from the total grams of carbs.
Q: How many carbs should I eat a day?
A: It depends on your calories. But, probably around 150-250 grams a day. If you’re active, you’ll need more.
Q: How much fiber should I be getting
A: 25-30 grams
Q: I like bread. What should I look
A: White bread is very high glycemic. Look for a bread that has, as it’s first ingredient, 100% whole grain. Most of these tend to be higher in fiber, too. My favorite is Dave’s Killer Bread.
What carb questions do YOU have? Let me know and I’ll update this article with your answers.