Dietitian’s Guide to Carbohydrates

stephanieauthement Nutrition, The Basics

What are carbs? Is the same thing as a carbohydrate? How do I know what a carb is? Should I avoid eating them? These are all questions that we have and this is your guide on everything carbs!

There are so many foods that have carbs in them from pasta and rice to sweet potatoes and corn. Would you have thought that corn or sweet peas was a carb? The answer is it is a carb and a vegetable. Little things like this can confuse anybody so that we think that we are eating “healthy” and “light” and really the calories are adding up.

So there are different types of carbs but I’ll spare you the tiny breakdowns. What you need to know is how many calories are in carbs and how much you should eat of carbs.

Let’s take that traditional 2000 calorie diet plan.  50-60% of those calories should come from carbohydrates. So if I take that 2000 calories and times that by 50-60%, I’d get 1000-1200 calories coming from carbs. I could then go further and break that into grams. There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates. So that puts me at 250-300 grams of carbohydrates a day.

Every nutrition label on every container always has a “Total Carbohydrate” section that tells you how many grams of carbohydrates are in the food. This is how you start adding up how many carbohydrates you have eaten in a day. Or if you know that you are eating bread – just know that it is a carb.

That many calories coming from carbs may seem like a lot, but our body NEEDS carbohydrates to live and function properly. I have heard of too many doctors telling people to stay away from carbs and anything white. To eat more fruits and vegetables and double up on protein. Why? Unless you have a specific disease – i.e. diabetes – you don’t need to avoid carbs. Even diabetics NEED carbohydrates. If a diabetic avoids carbs then they can go into a diabetic coma. The cure for low blood sugar – to eat/drink carbs. This is what I am talking about! Technically, fruit is a carb as well.

Now, if I heard a doctor say replace half of your white items with whole grain/whole wheat items, then I’d agree with them. That is what I like to hear because that is what people should be doing. Replacing your white rice with brown rice and your regular pasta for whole grain pasta. Your white bread should be replaced with whole wheat bread.  A sweet potato instead of a regular potato. These are easy adjustments, but here is the BIG PICTURE.

Brown rice and white rice are the same calories per serving. This is true for ANY thing I have just listed. A sweet potato has more vitamins and minerals, but as far as calories go, a sweet potato and a regular potato have the same amount of calories. Whole wheat bread and white bread have the same amount of calories. Isn’t that crazy?

As a dietitian, I often am told that “I’ve been eating healthy,” but when I get the foods they are eating, I find out that they have been eating too much brown rice or wheat bread because it is healthier so that means less calories. This just simply isn’t true. AND TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING BECOMES A BAD THING. Mostly because the calories are the same.

So the other thing I want you to ask yourself – Why are you on that low carb diet? Why are you trying to avoid carbs? Your body needs them. My example to every patient I have is, when you go on those low carb diets do you feel good? And what happens the first time you get around a restaurant that serves bread with butter before your meal? How about a good chocolate cake? Because you have avoided them for so long, you binge eat. It happens time and time again. A good bit of my patients will binge eat when they have been told to avoid carbs. I believe in moderation and not avoiding. If you ever catch me grocery shopping or eating out, you will see that I eat carbs. I balance out my meal with vegetables and protein, but there is no one food group that I avoid.

So let’s talk about the vegetables that are a carb. The two biggies in my book are corn and sweet peas. You are eating the same calories as a potato. Isn’t that something? Everybody LOVES corn and sweet peas. If you eat these over rice, you are eating the calorie equivalent of a big bowl of rice. Sure, the corn does have vitamins and minerals, but if we are looking at CALORIES, which is what causes weight gain/loss, the benefit isn’t there. You would be better off eating green beans and rice. Now, if you really want that corn and sweet peas, please eat them but remember that that will take the place of your carb for that meal – i.e. no rice or pasta or bread.

My main thing I want for YOU to understand is that your body needs carbs. Don’t be afraid of eating food that has carbs. Embrace your life and eat the things you want. It is all about moderation. However, it is all about replacing and substituting. Let’s live our lives by eating the right amount of foods and not listen to the media say “AVOID THIS FOOD GROUP TO LOSE WEIGHT.”

There is NO food group that will cause you to lose weight. There is no one thing that you can do that can make you gain weight. It is about eating real foods and enjoying the food that you eat.

Here is a list of different carbs (BY NO MEANS IS THIS AN EXCLUSIVE LIST)

  • Brown rice
  • White rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Potato
  • Corn
  • Sweet Peas
  • Fruit
  • Cereal
  • Pancakes
  • Waffles
  • Bagels
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Cake
  • Cookies
  • Brownies
  • Cornbread

I don’t think that we should all eat cake and ice cream everyday, but as far as sweet potatoes and brown rice and whole grain bread, let’s do it – in moderation.