As a nutritional therapist specializing in the ketogenic diet–low carb, high fat and moderate protein–I’m not really interested in these obvious sources of carbohydrates. I do recommend limiting obvious carbs, as they can cause metabolic issues in most individuals and aren’t among the most nutrient-dense foods anyway. On the contrary, many of them even contain so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid that can prevent you from absorbing other important nutrients.
I’m keen to teach people about “less obvious carbs”. This seems to be of increasing interest, as many people are trying to incorporate more good quality fats at the expense of too many carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates come in two general types: sugars and starches. Common simple sugars are glucose, fructose and galactose, each containing a single sugar unit. When they’re linked together, those simple sugars can form lactose (glucose and galactose), maltose (two units of glucose) or sucrose (glucose and fructose). Starches, on the other hand, are made up of long chains of glucose but when they’re digested, they’re also broken down into simple glucose.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Carbs in the food pyramid
This article could be kept very simple: Look at the very top and bottom of the food pyramid across countries- that’s pretty much it! The most carby types of food are usually found at the top.
These are foods that contain different types of sugar like honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, dextrose or molasses. As we all know, they’re found in candies, biscuits, cakes, jams and chocolate bars like Mars bars, for instance.
The bottom of the food pyramid represents the starches, i.e. bread (brown and white), potatoes, grain-based products like rice, pasta and cereals. Don’t be fooled- even the “healthy” whole grains contain a high percentage of carbs and, as I said earlier, they all end up being broken down into glucose in the blood stream:
– Weetabix is 80% carbs or 15g for one bisk
– Kellog’s corn flakes contain 89% of carbs or 21g for a small bowl
– In wholemeal pasta, 76% are carbs or 42g per serving of 63g. In comparison, white pasta has 81% carbs and 47g per serving.
– With 91%, brown and white rice is even higher in carbs
– Potatoes contain 87% of carbohydrates on average, which is the equivalent to 21g in portion of 136
You get the gist – most starchy foods, including (brown) bread, are around 75% or higher.
Less obvious carbs
If you’re keen to reduce carbohydrates, you also need to know about starchy vegetables like carrots, beetroot, peas, pumpkin, celeriac, parsnips or squashes. They’re called starchy for a reason and their carbohydrates can quickly add up. Don’t get me wrong- they’re nutrient-dense foods and it’s good to add them to your meals as long as you’re aware of quantities.
After all, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) in the United States recently announced major changes in their recommendations, including the removal of cholesterol and saturated fat as “nutrients of concern”.
Many people try to incorporate lots of legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans) in their diet because they’re touted as high protein foods. This isn’t the full truth as the majority of calories (65-70%) in pulses come from carbohydrates, too. Beware of baked beans- the tomato sauce typically also contains a good amount of sugar.
In soups in particular, carbohydrates can very quickly add up. It’s better to stick to the so-called non-starchy vegetables like Brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), green leafy vegetables, zucchini, asparagus, green beans or mushrooms.
Fruit shouldn’t be grouped together with vegetables in the food pyramid, in my opinion. Contrary to non-starchy vegetables, they are significantly higher in sugar and behave differently in your body.
And by the way, I’m pretty shocked that fruit juice is sitting at the bottom of the food pyramid, too. Fruit juices don’t contain any fibre, so they hit the blood stream quickly. Dried fruit is concentrated sugar, too, and carbohydrate content is 90% and more! I recommend using fruit in small amounts with a focus on berries, which are packed with antioxidants.
Anybody who has ever attempted to go into nutritional ketosis (through restriction of carbohydrates)–be it for medical reasons, to increase athletic performance or to lose weight–can confirm that carbohydrates sneak into every single processed or packaged food item. From shop-bought soups to salad dressings and BBQ sauces, most of the time in the form of simple sugars.
Low-fat products in particular tend to contain a significant amount of carbohydrates to make up for the loss of taste without the fat. Low-fat strawberry yoghurts, for instance, typically contain about 14 teaspoons of sugar in a 450-g pot!
Other pitfalls where I recommend checking the label out in detail include milk substitutes like soy or almond milk, which often contain added sugar in the form of agave syrup or other sugars. In addition, tomato sauces in a jar, chicken à l’orange, protein bars or any sugar-free products. Some sugar-free biscuits, for instance, contain as many carbohydrates as the regular ones.
What’s the alternative to eating foods that are high in carbohydrates, if that’s your goal? I suggest replacing the majority of them with non-starchy vegetables and adding healthy sources of fat like avocadoes, olives, fish oils, coconut products and butter. For some healthy ways to use oils in your cooking, click here.
Make sure you include some good quality protein like eggs, fish, poultry and some (organ) meat, and you have devised a healthy eating plan based on whole, unprocessed foods.