Cooking with Marlene Koch

Truth About Carbohydrates

Poor carbohydrates... it wasn't long ago that carbohydrates were considered a foundation of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, bolstered by the popularity of low-carb diets, today the word "carb" has instead become synonymous with empty calories, high blood sugar, and obesity for many people. Here's a bit of information to help you separate "carb fact" from "carb fiction."

Carbohydrate Myths

  • Eliminate all carbohydrates from your diet. Carbohydrates are your body's favorite fuel source. All carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is used to fuel your muscles, brain, and central nervous system. Every body needs carbohydrates!
  • Quit eating bread, pasta and desserts. Carbohydrates are not only found in breads, grains, and simple sugars, but also in fruits, vegetables, milk products, and legumes such as beans. (Protein such as meat, and fats such as butter and oils, do not contain carbohydrates)
  • Eating carbohydrates will make me fat. Eating more calories than your body needs will make you gain weight. It doesn't matter if the excess calories come from carbohydrates, fats or protein.
  • Carbohydrates should be avoided by people with diabetes. Carbohydrates are in fact the nutrient most responsible for raising blood sugar. When the glucose from digested carbohydrates enters the blood stream, your blood sugar rises. Insulin helps this "sugar" move from your bloodstream into your cells. When you do not have enough insulin, or if the insulin is not working effectively (as in the case of diabetes), eating too many carbs in a short period of time can raise your blood sugar to unhealthy levels.

Carbohydrate Truths

  • Include nutrient rich carbohydrates in your diet every day. The amount of carbohydrates you need in your diet varies depending on many factors, including the amount of calories you need, your activity level, and any medical conditions such as diabetes (including your medications). Your physician or registered dietitian can tailor exactly how much you need, but, in general, carbohydrates should make up 45 to 55% of most diets. Less than 135 grams per day is considered insufficient for good health by most health professionals.

    For those with diabetes, about 2 to 4 servings (30-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal) and no more than 1-2 servings (15-30 grams per snack) is most often advised. Portion control and reading labels when it comes to carbs is important.

  • A good meal plan spreads carbohydrates evenly throughout the day. Spacing meals and snacks (including your carbs) evenly throughout the day helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. Additionally, combining protein and/or healthy fats with carbohydrates helps to prevent blood sugar spikes and satisfy hunger.
  • Not all carbohydrates are created alike. Whole grain pasta, breads and grains is the "better-for-you" choice. They contain more nutrients than their refined counterparts, along with heart healthy fiber which slows blood sugar's rise. Studies show that the risk for diabetes is reduced as more fiber is added to the diet. Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers are also good sources of nutrients, while lower in carbohydrates than potatoes, corn and rice. When it comes to fruit, eating whole fruit is far superior to drinking juice, which is devoid of fiber and often more concentrated in sugar than fresh fruit.

    On the other hand, while sugary treats like cakes, cookies, pies, candies, sugars, honey, syrups, jams and other concentrated sweets can be included in any diet, their empty calories and dense carbohydrates make them less desirable when it comes to carbs.

  • Reduced carbohydrate foods make it easier than ever to enjoy a healthy carbohydrate diet. Try my Chicken Caesar Wrap to satisfy you with "good-for-you" carbs. Add a piece of fruit and a glass of reduced or non-fat milk to round out your meal.

Marlene Koch, RD, is a registered dietitian who has specialized in delicious food and healthy lifestyles for over twenty years. Marlene holds a degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Los Angeles, California. Marlene is a best-selling author of healthy, low-sugar cookbooks. Marlene is a frequent guest on TV, radio and websites such as iVillage and dlife.com.
Read more about Marlene Koch

The goal of Destination Diabetes is to be a useful and credible resource for the more than 20 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. and their families. Destination Diabetes provides information on a wide range of diabetes health and wellness topics. Articles are written or reviewed by diabetes advisors who have experience in diabetes education.