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Carbs 411: The Basics You Should Know Right Now

By Jenn Randazzo, MS RD on May 5, 2016, categorized in Health, Plant-based Nutrition

Carbs 411: The Basics You Should Know Right Now


Bread. Pasta. Pancakes. Bananas.  What do these foods have in common (besides being delicious)? They contain carbs.  Big. Bad. Evil. Carbs. (Please sense the sarcasm).

Poor carbs.  Seriously, ever since we’ve fallen back in love with fat and protein, carbohydrates have become the macronutrient we all love to hate and hate to love.

But do carbohydrates really deserve the bad rap that we’ve given them? I’m going to argue not.  Now, in saying that, do I endorse mauling an entire bag of potato chips or a glazed donut?  Nope. #sorryimnotsorry.

So, keep reading as your checker scans your groceries to get the 411 on carbohydrates.

The Basics


  • Are one of three macronutrients (along with protein and fats)
  • Can be categorized as a starch, sugar or fiber
  • Provide energy to cells, including brain cells

I’ve heard of “good” and “bad” carbs? What’s the difference?

There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex carbohydrates.  Each type is found in different types of foods, and is used in different ways as fuel, and can offer different benefits.


Simple Carbs (sugar) Complex Carbs (starch and fiber)
Examples Fresh fruits

100% fruit juice

Sugar (of all kinds—even maple syrup)

Whole grains

Starchy vegetables (like corn, sweet potatoes or parsnips)


Benefits Can provide immediate energy  Can provide slow release energy

Has less of an impact on blood sugar than simple carbs

Fiber helps you feel full


Consume Enjoy fruits and nuts as part of a balanced snack At mealtime!


But why do my friends that eat a high-protein, low-carb diet lose weight?

Protein is an awesome macronutrient. There’s no denying it.  And, yes, protein can help keep us full. However, even though protein is a key dietary macronutrient, it shouldn’t be the only one.  Complex carbohydrates also provide a host of nutrients, like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and, as part of a balanced diet, can help you feel full and satisfied. So, don’t second-guess yourself as you reach for that apple as you run out the door to your barre class.

What sources of carbohydrate do you recommend?

Whenever possible, I recommend nibbling on carbohydrates from whole foods.  Unprocessed, unrefined, whole foods.  If Mama Nature didn’t make it, find a source of carbohydrates she did.

Some of my favorite sources of simple and complex carbohydrates are:

Simple Complex

All fruits and fruit juices


Vegetables Sweet potatoes





Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds Beans



Sugars/Sweeteners Maple syrup


What type of carbohydrates should I eat when I work out?

Both simple and complex carbohydrates can totally help those looking to have a killer workout! But just mindlessly stuffing your face with a bunch of candy, pasta and bread isn’t the answer. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)So, before you hit the treadmill or your fitness class, don’t forget to grab that banana, orange, or apple for energy!

What carbohydrates can you not live without!?

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