Good Carb, Bad Carb: What’s all the fuss about?

Whether you’re focused on a plant-based, Paleo or Ketogenic diet, losing weight or simply being a healthier eater, there is one theme in common these days: watch your carbs. What’s all the fuss about carbs?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie a day diet, that translates to between 900 and 1300 calories from carbs. A keto diet on the other hand, aims for 5 percent carbs, combined with a range of 60 to 75 percent healthy fats, and 20 to 35 percent protein. The general rule of thumb for this diet is roughly 30 grams of carbs. Similarly, a Paleo Diet, which is not a low carb diet per se, recommends anywhere from 200 grams to 600 grams of carbs a day, depending if you are going for weight loss or maintenance.
When looking at carbs, it’s first important to understand that our bodies do need carbs. Our bodies use carbs to make glucose, which is our main energy source. We use glucose and we can also store glucose.
The problem with carbs lies in the fact that there are good carbs, which come in the form of whole grains, beans, fruits
 and vegetables and bad carbs (such as bagels, white bread, pasta and other refined or processed foods). The latter tend to get absorbed quickly and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels and strip away our beneficial fiber. We tend to eat too many of these types of carbs, which means even more fiber depletion and too much fast-acting glucose circulating in our bodies. This can put us at risk for type 2 diabetes and other ailments. Sugar has also been associated with inflammation, so whether you have inflammation in your gut, or in your joints, some people find that cutting back on processed carbs helps to reduce inflammation.
  • Good carbs, basically are plant based and loaded with fiber. Our bodies absorb these carbs slower than the bad carbs, so that we avoid any glucose spikes. Eating more fiber-based carbs can help to keep chronic disease at bay. Studies have shown that low-fiber diets, or one that is heavy on the bad carbs, put us at greater risk for heart disease. Eating more fiber, slows our digestion, which helps us to feel satiated and therefore can be an aid to weight loss, as you’re not as prone to cravings and binge-eating. Cutting out carbs to lose weight is in fact a key reason that many people choose to reduce their carb intake. Certain types of fiber can also help to lower our cholesterol. The importance of fiber is why the keto diet subtracts the fiber content from the overall carb count of a food. For instance 1.5 cups of kale has 18g of carbs, but 12g of fiber. So this only counts as 6 grams of your daily carb intake. So if you’re trying to figure out if something is a good carb, consider its fiber content, too.
Basically, whatever diet or eating style you adapt, the key is to make sure you include a lot of fiber-rich healthy carb options. It’s not as hard as you think. It might take a bit of getting used to at first, but we think you’ll get the hang of it.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Invest in a spiralizer. Try making veggie noodles out of zucchini or carrots. In 4.5 cups of zucchini noodles there isapproximately 20 grams of carbs, but when you subtract the 10 grams of fiber, it’s just 10 grams of carbs.
  2. Just rice it. Try cauliflower or broccoli rice. Similar to zucchini, cauliflower and broccoli are incredibly low on the carb front.
  3. Above ground veggies. Basically, the key low carb veggies are the ones grown above ground. Leafy greens, bell peppers, asparagus and cruciferous veggies. Potatoes and root vegetables, those that grow in the ground tend to be higher in carbs.
  4. An apple a day. Looks like an apple a day will in fact help keep the doctor away. As will many fruits—kiwis, melon, peaches, even strawberries all make the cut.
  5. Avocado anyone. When in doubt, eat an avocado. One avocado has just 3 grams of carbs, but 12 grams of fiber. It is high in healthy fats, but that’s okay.
  6. Go nuts. If you’re not too concerned about calories, nuts also have a high fiber count to offset the carbs. Walnuts and pecans in particular can be good choices.

7. Beans, beans the magical fruit. Although beans and legumes have too high of a carb count for the Keto Diet, and legumes are also excluded from the Paleo diet, they still fit the bill for a low-carb, plant-based offering.

8. Choose whole foods. Like beans, some diets exclude whole grains, but again when you’re talking about white rice versus quinoa, go for the quinoa.