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  • Alyssa Abrahamson

Understanding Carbohydrates in Nutrition

People are often confused about carbohydrates and, like many things in the world of nutrition, there’s been a lot of controversy and misconceptions around “carbs.”

What exactly are carbohydrates?

One of the 3 macronutrients, along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are the body's quickest source of energy because your body easily breaks them down into glucose, giving you an immediate energy boost.

Think about it - when you’re running around doing errands or whatnot, and you’re feeling hangry because you haven’t eaten, what do you typically reach for? Carbs!

Carbohydrates are classified into simple and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, aka refined carbs, are typically more processed and have had the fiber altered or removed so they are digested quickly. This can spike your blood sugar, giving you a sugar rush often leaving you feeling fatigued, then reaching for more.

Complex carbohydrates, aka whole carbs, are minimally processed foods that contain the fiber found naturally in the food. They are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar because they are digested more slowly. Complex carbs also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs.But wait - there’s more!

Carbs are further broken into 3 categories: sugars, starch and fiber.

Keep in mind that all foods we call carbohydrates contain a combination of the 3 types of carbs (as well as some fat and protein).

Sugars are Simple Carbohydrates and include

  • Fruits and fruit juices

  • Sugar (e.g. honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, white sugar)

  • Dairy products

  • Soda

  • Ice cream

  • Candy

  • Processed grains, cereals, white bread, pasta, baked goods

Starches are Complex Carbohydrates found in

  • Beans and legumes

  • Whole grains such as brown rice or oatmeal

  • Veggies like squash, potatoes, corn, plantains, beets

  • Fruit such as oranges, pineapple, mangoes, cherries

Fiber is a Complex Carbohydrate found in

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Beans and legumes

  • Fruits with edible skins like berries, pears, apples

  • Whole-grains like quinoa and oatmeal

  • Veggies such as broccoli, collard greens, swiss chard, cabbage

Broadly speaking, sugars and starches are stored in our cells, tissues, and organs and are broken down for energy usage. Fiber, on the other hand, doesn’t provide direct energy; rather, it passes through our body mostly undigested, which keeps you feeling full longer. Fiber also helps feed the friendly bacteria in your gut and supports proper digestion.

How many carbs should you eat? Is a low carb diet the way to go? It depends.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet and nutrition. What’s most important is for you to understand how the foods you eat are affecting your health.

I am devoted to helping you prioritize wholesome foods that are nourishing to you, your body, and support an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle.

If you're looking for personalized guidance and healing support, I would love to help you. Email me and let's talk.

Love, Your Wellness coach,


P.S. Listen to podcast episode 169 “Understanding Carbohydrates in Nutrition.”

March 20, 2024


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