Carbs (aka carbohydrates) are a hot topic in nutrition these days. They are a hot topic in Dr. Lipman’s office too. When we meet with patients, we help them find the best diet for their individual needs, but there is almost always one point in common: eat fewer carbs. Carbs are one of the three main macronutrients — carbs, proteins, fats — and we need them to keep us healthy, but as we see with fad diets, the information out there can be confusing… are all carbs “bad?” Let’s get our carbs under control.

What’s a carb, anyway?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients — carbs, proteins, fats — which are the main components of the foods we eat. Carbs break down into sugars (technically sugars, starches, and fiber) and can be further categorized as simple or complex. Simple and complex carbs can be explained by how quickly the food breaks down in your body. Imagine table sugar (quickly) vs. brown rice (more time). Carbs provide the body’s most easily accessible energy source, glucose, which is the reason we crave them when we are tired or run-down.

Which foods contain carbs?

Simply speaking, if it breaks down into sugar, it’s a carb (it can also at the same time have some protein and fat). Sweet things like candy, soda, cake, and even fruit seem obvious, right? But savory foods like bread, pasta, grains, beans, dairy, and starchy vegetables also contain carbohydrates. 

What are the best choices? 

It’s important to acknowledge that there is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. Each person metabolizes carbohydrates differently and therefore can handle different amounts (quantity is important too!). We can all agree that refined carbs are not great for anyone (even though they can be quite tasty!). Refined carbs are deplete of fiber and nutrients and digest quickly causing blood sugar dysregulation. So which carbs do we recommend?

Vegetables – The rainbow of veggies that grow above ground from kale to red peppers with moderate amounts of starchy veggies, like sweet potatoes, that grow underground

Fruit – Whole fruits, especially lower sugar fruits like berries, green apples, and grapefruit

Dairy – Whole-fat dairy products, if they work for you

Legumes – Whole legumes such as beans, peas, lentils – ideally soaked and cooked properly to make them more digestible 

Grains – Whole, gluten-free grains – but the truth is we aren’t fans of grains, it’s worth a grain-free experiment for 2-4 weeks to see how you feel (you might feel great)!

Remember everyone is different and it is up to you to find your ideal carbohydrate intake and experiment with a lower carb diet to see if it’s a good fit. You might be sensitive to carbs if you notice you are gaining weight even eating “healthy” carbs or if you notice your energy fluctuating, carb cravings, or foggy thinking. It also might vary depending on your age or if you are dealing with a health issue. Experiment and see what works best for you!

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