Understanding Carbohydrates

Watercolor image of vegetables on a cutting board

By: Joy Millner and Megan Schultz

Carbohydrates are made of fiber, starch, and sugar. While fiber and starch are complex carbs, sugar is a simple carb. They are known to be refined and overly processed as they result in a sudden rush of energy. Examples include raw sugar, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, etc. Differently, complex carbs are higher in fiber and digest more slowly to create a fuller feeling for weight control. Examples of complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains.

Carbohydrate intake can vary based on your health goals as well as your activity levels and metabolic health. Low carb diets have proven to go beyond weight loss in lowering blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood triglycerides. The dietary guidelines recommend that carbs provide 45 to 65 percent of an individual’s daily calorie intake, meaning that if you eat a 2000-calorie diet, you should aim for about 220-325 grams of carbs per day.

For our clients that have weight loss as their main wellness goal, we recommend a higher protein, lower carbohydrate plan. Most of our clients are eating too many simple carbohydrates overall and consuming too much white flour, sugar, and processed foods.

Often, if our client comes to us with weight loss as their goal, we initially recommend a reduction in their carbohydrate daily consumption, often between 200 and 300 grams of carbohydrates daily. We have found with our experience that most of our clients are consuming excessive carbohydrates. When we reduce their carbohydrate intake initially, get them to eat more vegetables, drink more water, and exercise more, they successfully achieve weight loss.

Examples of High Carb Foods to Minimize: Pasta, rice, bread, Desserts, such as cookies and cakes, candy, and sugary beverages

Examples of Low Carb Foods: Lean or grass-fed meats, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts and seeds, oils such as coconut oil and olive oil, some fruit such as berries and apples

A Low-Carb, High-Protein Meal Plan Example:

  • Breakfast 1: Whole-Grain Oatmeal with Blueberries
  • Lunch 1: Spinach Salad with Grilled Chicken, Cucumber, Almonds, & Olive Oil Dressing
  • Dinner 1: Turkey Burger with Whole Wheat Bun, served with Sweet Potatoes
  • Breakfast 2: Egg Whites Scrambled with Avocado, Tomatoes, and Spinach
  • Lunch 2: Turkey & Hummus Lettuce Wraps with a side of Steamed Broccoli
  • Dinner 2: Spaghetti Squash with Ground Beef and Tomato Sauce
  • Breakfast 3: Plain no-sugar added Yogurt with stevia and Berries and a Chicken or Turkey Sausage Patty
  • Lunch 3: Soup with lots of vegetables and meat in it
  • Dinner 3: Bunless Cheeseburger or Turkey Burger with lots of steamed vegetables

Low Carbohydrate Snack Suggestions:

  • Celery or Apple with Nut Butter
  • Guacamole with 10 Chips
  • Homemade Kale Chips
  • Canned Tuna or Salmon
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Meatballs
  • Beef or Turkey Jerky
  • Parmesan Cheese Crackers or Vegetables with Hummus

Quick Health Tips to Takeaway:

  1. The More Complex the Carb, the Better.
  2. Portion Control and Mindful Eating is Key.
  3. There is plenty of room for Vegetables.

Try tracking your daily carbs by using FREE apps such as My Fitness Pal and Atkins Carb & Meal Tracker. These apps can make you aware of your carbohydrate intake and provide lots of nutrition information on the food that you are eating. Knowledge is power and having this information can only help you on your wellness journey.