An Easy Guide to Carbs and Starches

Everyone seems to be trying to cut back on carbs these days—including yours truly! Many of us trying to adopt a more Paleo-based diet have been weaning ourselves off of carbs, or at the very least, eating them less frequently.

Everyone needs some carbs—the good carbs—in their diet, while there are others that nobody really should be eating. Our bodies need carbohydrates to make glucose—the main source of energy our cells use to function. We need to be sure we’re choosing the right types of carbs for the job.

Let’s take a step back to grade school science class here for a few minutes to discuss what carbohydrates and starches actually are and to talk about which types to eat less of and why.

The different types of carbohydrates

There are three main types of carbohydrates:

  • simple carbs like candy and sugar, which are basically just empty calories
  • complex carbs like whole grains and vegetables
  • and fiber

We should be getting the majority of our carbs from natural sources—fruits and vegetables—and we should avoid eating simple carbs at all costs.

Simple carbs and some complex carbs will spike your blood glucose levels, which may lead to insulin resistance. We don’t want this because insulin is the hormone that tells the tissues in our bodies to use the glucose from our blood as energy. We don’t want glucose left hanging around in our blood because it can stick to proteins and prevent them from doing their job.

Fiber is a carbohydrate, technically, but our bodies do not digest it. There are two types of fiber: water-soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, soaking up fluids in our small intestine and our stomach. It also absorbs cholesterol and fat. Insoluble fiber is the guy that moves through our bodies cleaning up toxins and speeding foods through our digestive tracts, aiding in the elimination of waste (read: keeps us regular). If our diets are rich in fiber, our bodies run much more efficiently.

Some folks think that if you eliminate grains you’re eliminating fiber altogether but that’s very far from the truth. Veggies are the place where you should be getting your fiber. In fact, an artichoke has 10.3 grams of fiber while a slice of whole wheat bread only has .5!

Starches fall under the category of complex carbohydrates. Certain starches should be eaten by everyone, while some aren’t good for us at all.

Good starches

Natural starches are a good source of protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Examples of these would be sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, carrots, apples, oats, brown rice, and peas. (Obviously, if you’re 100% paleo you won’t be eating legumes and rice.)

Sometimes starches are refined into foods that are unhealthy: french fries, pastry, tortilla chips, etc. These foods are examples of carbs you should avoid.

Starches you should limit or avoid altogether:

  • White pasta
  • White rice
  • White potatoes
  • Corn
  • Bread and baked goods

Your dinner plate should be made up of veggies and protein. If you must eat bread or potatoes, eat them for lunch or breakfast so you’ll have a chance of burning them off throughout the day.

2 Responses

  1. Great post! I have a strange diet because I’m 50% Paleo, 50% a variety of Carbs. A few years ago I lost 100 pounds, and my kidney function deteriorated substantially with the weight loss, and I almost died. This diet not only helps me to keep weight on (the opposite problem for most), but it also makes me feel better. I still suffer from high blood pressure obtained from my previous CEO duties. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Thank you for keeping me on your E-mail list. I’m sorry I can’t contribute to you in any way at this time. Having a hard time staying ahead of bills, but I wanted you to know how much I appreciate you. I have MS and I call you my MS Food Guru, as you were recommended to me through Dr. Terry Wahls. Thank you again for all you do to enlighten us. Margit

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