Nancy, I hear so much talk about carbohydrates—and I’m not even sure that they are. My doctor said I should eat a low carbohydrate diet to help with a medical issue. I don’t know what to eat. Thanks for answering this embarrassingly basic question…

Answer: While your question “What are carbs?” may seem very basic, you are not the only person who is confused. Case in point, a client who said he had stopped eating carbs – but then reported he ate oatmeal for breakfast and whole wheat bread with his lunch. Both of those foods are “carbs.” He was actually trying to say he had given up eating refined white flour and sugar. 

Carbohydrates include:

Grain-based foods / starchy foods, such as bread, bagel, crackers, pretzels, potato, rice, pasta, etc.

Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, etc..

Vegetables – all kinds

Fruits and fruit juices – all kinds

Sugars (including honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, soda pop, marshmallows, etc.)

An overall “low carb diet” might have about 30-40  grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15 per snack (at least 120 g carb/day today). But this depends on your total energy needs for the day. A registered dietitian (RD) could help you determine what would be a low carb diet for your medical condition. Most athletes who train 1 to 1.5 hours a day could appropriately consume at least 60 to 80 g carb/meal (250 to 350 g carb/day) to optimally fuel their muscles.

When folks go on a “low carb diet”, they generally stop eating refined white flour, white rice, white bread and other refined grains. But, if they then fill-up on lots of bananas, sweet potatoes, beets, corn on the cob, apples and copious amounts of fruits and veggies, they can consume a lot of carbs. Granted, those foods are “quality carbs” in terms of nutritional value, but they still have calories that count.

A low carb diet differs from a no carb diet. Rather than trying to limit all carbs, your better bet is to try to reduce your intake of refined sugars. You can easily do that by focusing on eating carb-protein combinations every 4 hours: peanut butter + banana; apple + low-fat cheese; nuts + raisins; eggs + whole-wheat toast; Greek yogurt + granola; chicken + brown rice. Protein fills you up and is satiating, so you won’t crave sweets and will be content to minimize your intake of sugary carbs. You won’t be craving them.

Foods that are NOT carbohydrate-based include protein (peanut butter, nuts, eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.) and fat. Fat includes health-eroding saturated fats (greasy meats, bacon, sausage, butter, pepperoni, coconut oil, etc.) and health-promoting fats (nuts, PB, olive oil, avocado, guacamole).

For more information: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

To find a local sports dietitian who can convert “carbs” into “real foods”, use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.

Written by Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD is an internationally respected sports nutritionist, weight coach, nutrition author, and workshop leader. She is a registered dietitian (RD) who is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She is also a certified WellCoach. Nancy specializes in nutrition for performance, life-long health, and the nutritional management of eating disorders. She counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice in the Boston area (Newton, MA). Some of her clients consider her to be their food coach, others their food therapist. Regardless, she enjoys the challenge of helping sports-active people transform their suboptimal eating habits into effective fueling plans. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, a best-selling resource, has sold over 550,000 copies and is now in it’s new fifth edition.
Website: http://www.nancyclarkrd.com