May 11, 2016

Understanding Carbs

bread basketMy clients are more confused about carbs than just about any topic having to do with food. It's easy to understand why: there are "good carbs" (whole wheat bread, beans, etc.) and "bad carbs" (pizza, candy, pastries, etc.). And to make things even more confusing, there are also "low-carb" diets, which were all the rage for a while. 

So what the heck is the story on carbs? Well, it's actually fairly simple. I divide carbs into two categoris: Devil Carbs and Angel Carbs. Devil Carb include white bread, white pasta, bagels, muffins, scones, brownies, pretzels, chips, cake, pizza, etc. These carbs make your blood sugar spike, your insulin surge in an effort to reduce that sugar in your blood, and then, kaboom, it all collapses like a popped balloon as your blood sugar falls and you feel tired and lethargic. Devil Carbs seem to stiumulate your appetite and make you hungry all day; moreover, they have no nutritional value. 

Angel Carbs are your friends. They keep you full, keep your blood sugar steady, provide lots of nutritional benefits and sit on your shoulder whispering encouragement in your ear (if only!). I believe eliminating carbs entirely from your diet almost guarantees failure. When you eliminate a whole category of food from your diet, you set yourself up for trouble. 

I break Angel Carbs down into five groups: 

  1. Familiar: brown rice, couscous, quinoa, farro, grains, baked sweet potato, brown rice sushi roll 
  2. Bready: 2 slices of approved bread items (see below), 1 light pita, 1 light whole wheat English muffin
  3. Surprising Veggie: squash, beans, peas, corn
  4. Sauces: marinara, teriyaki, barbeque, black bean, any sweet sauce or "I don't know what's in it" sauce in a restaurant 
  5. Wild Card: frozen meal (under 350 calories)

Here are some of my favorite Angel Carb products:

  • Breads: look for whole wheat, sprouted grains and flax (Ezekiel, Damascs flax roll-ups, Thomas' light English muffins, Arnold's sandwich thins, La Tortilla Factory wheat wraps) 
  • Whole grains: amaranth, bulgur wheat, kamu, millet, quinoa, farro
  • Breakfast choices: whole-wheat waffles (Van's, Kashi); Muffins (VitaMuffin 100-calorie muffin) 
  • Alcohol: Light beer, wine, vodka or scotch with club soda 


Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN