How to Choose The Right Carbs

September 21, 2015 at 3:40 am


Ah, carbohydrates. Has another macronutrient ever been more vilified? Well perhaps fat, but it seems that carbohydrates are currently stealing center stage.

Are carbs really as bad as some people say? Should you be eating low carb or no carbs at all?

If you’re confused about carbs you’re definitely not alone.

The reality is…

All Carbs are NOT Created Equal

Carbohydrates come primarily from plant foods. In their natural state these plant foods contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber, as well as compounds known as phytochemicals that promote healing and overall health.

This is a far cry from the bread, bagels, doughnuts, muffins, cookies and instant breakfast cereals that people associate with carbs today. Stripped of their vital nutrients and fiber during processing, these carbs are rapidly absorbed into our bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar and an associated rise in insulin. Over time the regular consumption of these foods can contribute to insulin resistance, heart disease, and a whole host of other health problems.

Unfortunately, it’s these highly refined and processed carbs, which make up the majority of North American’s diets.

Choosing the Right Carbs

The truth is carbohydrates are important, along with a healthy balance of fats and protein, for long-term health and healthy brain function – but we must choose to eat the right ones.

Good quality carbs coming from plants naturally provide high levels of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that are important to creating great health.


By volume, vegetables should make up the majority of your carbohydrate-intake with an emphasis on the lower starch veggies. Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, celery, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and so forth!

Then there are the starchier veggies that provide a richer source of complex carbs like corn, sweet potatoes, red and purple potatoes, and all the glorious winter squashes. Since these veggies tend to spike blood sugar more rapidly (they have a higher glycemic index) they need to be eaten in more limited quantities and ideally in the context of other foods (i.e. healthy fats) to reduce the overall glycemic load.


When you need a source of quick digesting energy, fruit is a great choice. Choose from a variety of dark berries such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries; apples; pears; and stone fruits like nectarines, peaches, plums and cherries. Limit sweeter fruit like mango, banana and pineapple or combine it in a smoothie with leafy greens and/or some coconut oil to reduce the glycemic index of the individual fruits themselves.


Fiber-rich and also packing a punch of protein, legumes provide a slow-release of sugars into the bloodstream. Mix it up and try different varieties of lentils: red, yellow, green, and French; mung beans, split peas, kidney beans, navy beans and chickpeas, along with many others.

Whole Grains.

When it comes to choosing grains opt for ones that are as minimally processed as possible. The best ones would be those containing just one ingredient (the grain itself!) that you cook on the stovetop. There’s a whole world of grains out there – many of them gluten-free for those who can’t tolerate it – such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat (kasha), wild rice, and some varieties of oats (as long as they’re labeled gluten-free). If gluten isn’t a problem for you, you can also try wholegrain products made from spelt and kamut flour– two varieties of wheat that are less modified and more digestible than regular ol’ wheat flour.

Is Gluten-Free Healthier?

Not always. Don’t be fooled by many of the packaged foods available today labeled gluten-free. While in some cases these foods can be a good tool for somebody transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle, at the end of the day gluten-free cookies and gluten-free pizza are still cookies and pizza! Always read labels to see what else is lurking inside the box. Sometimes these products have more ingredients than their gluten-full counterparts.

Don’t do well with grains? Not a problem. Get your fill of carbs from the other categories of food listed.

In closing, your requirement for carbs will vary depending on a number of factors including your state of health, weight, activity level, and life-stage. For example, if you’re highly active or expecting a baby your requirements will be higher. On the other hand if you have hormonal problems like PCOS or Type 2 Diabetes, you may have to lower your carb intake until your blood sugar and insulin are stabilized.

And finally…

What about Cupcakes and Croissants?

If you’re in great health and eat a relatively clean and wholesome diet the majority of the time, I see no reason why you shouldn’t indulge occasionally. I think a great motto when it comes to our carb and overall food intake is quality over quantity!

About the Author

Elaine is a Certified Nutritionist and Women’s Health Coach. She works with clients across the globe to help them improve their health and relationship with food. Elaine believes in a real food approach to health that is rooted in optimizing digestion and includes ongoing and intelligent cleansing. You can download her FREE Hip, Healthy & Holistic Makeover Guide to learn 5 simple things you can do every day to lose weight, increase energy, kick cravings, and feel beautiful inside & out.