Carbohydrates-Good Or Bad? Answers To Your Most Common Carb Questions, Part II

I am excited to share with you some of the best information that I have found on food and health by Christopher Warden, New York City Fitness Professional and author of the Fitness Philosopher blog. Whatever Christopher says about health, fitness and weight loss I listen. He has helped me immensely with getting my body on track. Enjoy!

Common Questions About Carbohydrates, Part II

Finding information about "what to eat" and "how to be healthy" is easy; knowing what info is trustworthy and quality is another matter altogether. The topic of carbohydrates illustrates a perfect example of this. So much is written about them, but millions remain confused, if not misinformed.

And that's the reason for publishing this Q & A.

Part I of Carbohydrate Q & A focused predominantly on defining carbohydrate and its components -- sugar, starch and fiber. Here, we'll focus on a few of the questions more commonly asked about carbohydrates, including which types to eat. . . and why. Please note that "carbohydrate" as described in this article refers to all digestible starches/sugars, whether the food source is considered "healthy" (sweet potato, piece of fruit, brown rice, etc.) or "unhealthy" (soda, cookies, candy, etc.).

Are Carbohydrates Bad?

· We're overeating carbs that are (essentially) trash - highly processed, high starch, high sugar varieties - while undereating those that our body prefers -- low sugar and nutrient-rich carbs like berries, leafy greens, and fibrous vegetables and fruits.

· We're eating more sugar now than ever before (from an estimated 4 lbs/yr at the turn of the 20th century, to 150 lbs/yr today).

And all of this has society at large experiencing astronomical levels of obesity and chronic disease. That's what's "bad."

Are there exceptions to the kinds of carbohydrates I can eat? How about to when I can eat them?

In terms of achieving fat loss and reducing risk of developing chronic disease, there's little doubt that the best carbs for you are those with low starch/sugar content. Now, if the thought of living predominantly on leafy greens, berries and fibrous veggies makes you want to scream, here are a few things to consider before deciding to go heavy on starch or sugar:

Your genetics. If you have a family history linked to ailments like obesity, heart disease or diabetes, you're likely better off leaning toward low starch/low sugar carb choices.

Your current activity level. John Berardi, respected nutritionist and strength coach talks about the idea of "earning your starch." Essentially, if you're going to eat starchier carbs, do it early in the day or in conjunction with strength training/other rigorous activity. These are the times when your body is most metabolically active and/or when muscle is demanding fuel, helping to ensure that the starch you do eat is put to good use by the body.

Your current state of health/ The amount of fat you're trying to lose. If you're living with illness such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer, you really ought to consider keeping sugar and starch ingestion to a minimum - if you eat it at all. Same goes if you've got significant body fat to lose.

The point here is that for the sake of your health and performance, you really have to make a diligent attempt at consistently eating reduced amounts of sugar and starch. Why? Because insulin - the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels - has been shown to play a role in obesity as well as many of the chronic diseases that afflict us today. Controlling sugar intake = regulating insulin = less body fat/reduced risk for chronic illness.

Are all carbs created equal?

No. Aside from differences in nutrient content (vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.), the most obvious difference between foods is the amount of digestible starches and sugars you get.

How do you figure out the sugar content the food?

Look at the food's nutrition information, paying attention to the "Total Carbohydrate" value (measured in grams). Subtract the grams of fiber from the grams of total carbohydrate, and the remaining number is the amount of starch/sugar you're getting per serving. It goes without saying that, if you're trying to keep your sugar intake low, you'll have to either choose foods with naturally low sugar content OR reduce the portion size. If you're hungry, of course, I'd suggest choosing the foods "low on the sugar scale" so you can eat to your stomach's content.

Can you give specific examples of "good, low-in-sugar carbohydrates" to eat?

As alluded to above, the best carbs to eat in terms of regulating blood sugar are those providing high nutrient value, sustenance and minimal starch or sugar content. Examples include: salad greens, asparagus, artichokes, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, carrots, broccoli, garlic, green beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, turnips, spinach and squash. Fruits include: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, peaches and oranges.

Does Low Carb = No Carb?

Rather than take up space here, I'll refer you to the blog post where I answered this particular question. . . HERE.

I knew that your body could use protein for energy. However, I was led to believe carbohydrates are the better source. What's the deal here?

While it's true that carbohydrates are commonly considered the nutrient that "provides energy" to the body, I'd contend that protein is the better source (for us) for these reasons:

• Protein consumption is essential for our survival. Carbohydrate consumption is not. Is it not logical to reason that if you "can't live without it," it's "better?"

• Protein is more nutrient dense, so you get "more bang for your nutrient buck." Put another way, because protein has so much nutritional value, you can eat less to get more of what the body requires, whether it be energy or a particular amino acid. (Example: To ingest 65 grams of protein, you could eat 8 ounces of elk meat OR you could eat 13 heads of lettuce or 56 bananas or 261 apples or 33 slices of bread. (from The Protein Power Lifeplan, p.9))

• Protein consumption doesn't contribute to insulin release like carbohydrate does. So, with protein you get the benefit of energy and nutrition while also regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. (which promotes reduced body fat, which decreases risk of disease . . . )

How do I keep sugar/starch consumption to a minimum?

A few suggestions:

Consume fresh, whole foods (especially of the leafy green, fibrous veggie, berry varieties) as often as possible. If you can't eat it fresh, frozen's usually the next best option.

Minimize consumption of processed foods.

Stay away from low fat foods. To replace fat content, sugar is often added to the food source. So, ironically, a "low fat" food has more potential to fatten you than the "regular" version. . . all because of the sugar added.

Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list of the questions faced by fitness professionals, but hopefully it gives you some good direction. If you need clarification or have any further questions, please feel free to write me at Alternatively, the following resources can give you great nutritional guidance (or satisfy your curiosity):

The Metabolic Typing Diet, by William Wolcott

The Protein Power Lifeplan, by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades

Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes


  1. Really informative post about carbs, btw, i gave you an award. hope you could check my personal blog! God bless!

  2. Very interesting and informative post!

  3. very interesting and very helpful post on carbs, a lot of helpful information are here that we can use in our day to day life. thanks again for sharing, heidi.

  4. Wow! fantastic information! Thank you for sharing!

  5. wow this is great info! I'm not really watching the amount of carb I eat but I try to be conscious of it when I can! :) Thanks for sharing this!

  6. He is brilliant. I can see why you listen to what he says. Thank you for sharing that article! I didn't realize that it is better to cut down on sugar if you are obese or trying to lose weight instead of eating "low fat" foods.

  7. I enjoyed this post Heidi...I will check out Christopher Warden's blog for more information...


  8. Heidi,
    Once again, you always do a wonderful job of keeping us abreast of what's better for our bodies and for that, I thank you. This post is very helpful to me.

    Take care. Hope all is well. :-)

  9. Interesting..... not all carbs are created equal - this is very good information. I really enjoyed this informative article - Thank you dear.


  10. Just keep me away from the macaroni and cheese! Yiiiiiii! Goes right to my thighs! ;)

  11. Thi post is great. Everybody seems to think all carbs are bad and this explains so well why this os not true.

  12. I love the post and will definitely check out Christopher's blog too.

  13. A great post. So glad I stopped by to find this. I am a carb addict, and I'm trying my best to instill the "earning your starch" attitude into my daily regimen.

  14. My biggest challenge is Mounds bars, white rice, and pasta. The more I can do to subsitute that with dark chocolate, brown rice, and whole wheat, non refined pasta, the better off I will be!

  15. You have a wonderful site! I'm giving you the "I Heart Your Blog" award. Live Life Veg

  16. Great info. Sometimes I forget how common this knowledge is, in fact, not. For those of us who spend more time researching health related issues I think basic info like this tends to be so common, we forget that other people don't really understand it as well. I personally didn't know the difference until just a couple of years ago!

  17. Thanks for answering my questions Chris. Since your first post on carbs I have re-evaluated the amounts I eat. I've now cut down significantly on the amount I eat during training days and when I do eat carbs I try to go for the healthier options (fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread, wholemeal rice, wholemeal pasta etc).

    Also I thought I would let you know that your link in the section 'Does Low Carb = No Carb?' isn't working for me.

  18. Very good info on carbs. To sum it up, eat carbs before a workout, eat more protein after that. Avoid processed food as much as possible and focus on healthy carbs like fruits and vegetables. Cool! : )

  19. Very useful information!

    I am glad to know that "good, low-in-sugar carbohydrates to eat list", I love most of things in that list!

  20. Another post full of great info! I have not visited in awhile, I hope all is well. What a beautiful picture of you on your trip.

  21. you did a great job of covering the good and bad carbs. thanks for the info

  22. This is great information. It's all so confusing and I am trying so hard to get better about reading nutritional labels when grocery shopping. It's important when trying to eat healthier.

  23. Unfortunately, I get more than my fair share of carbs in a day. Everything in moderation, right? If only carrots tasted as good as mac/cheese.


  24. thanks, christopher for such an easy-to-follow breakdown on carbohydrates. i always enjoy your guest posts. and heidi, the variety you include from sources to topics always keeps me coming back...

  25. So how do you know if you need a low-carb or a high-carb diet? In our practice we use a system called "nutritional typing" to make this distinction. If you are not familiar with metabolic typing, you would benefit by taking the free condensed version of the nutritional type test. The test is a quick way to help you jump-start your implementation of nutritional typing.

  26. he must be very brilliant. This carbs about i have to learn and balance for i didn't watch the amount of carbs i had been taken.:( always been a great information Heidz!:)

  27. Wow I think I just learned everything there was to learn about carbs. Thanks for the info Heidi.

  28. Heidi,

    Thanks again for the opportunity to work with you.

    Thanks everybody else for your feedback on my guest post!

    Tom, What results did you see (physical changes, how you felt, etc.) when you altered your carb intake? Please share! Oh, and the broken link is fixed. . . :)

  29. Lots of good info here. They always help to remind us to eat better when we're being bad to ourselves. Thanks for sharing.


  30. Wow great post, lot's of information! I am a low carb girl because my body just doesn't do well on tons of carbs. I wish I could say that it was by choice but nope my body made me do it. :D

  31. Good info that really simplifies info on carbs. Like you said, people tend to relate carbs to energy, when protein really has about the same energy content. In fact, the most energy comes from fat. Really good post, thank you.


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