Demystifying Carbohydrates

By Lindsay Verraster, MPH, RDN, LDN

Often maligned and misunderstood, carbohydrates are a necessary part of every diet. The key is choosing complex carbohydrates, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Limit Refined and Sweetened Carbs

The type of carbohydrates to limit are “refined,” meaning the plant was processed to remove the highly nutritive parts. Think white rice and white pasta. Without fiber, the starch from refined flours will be digested quickly, which then raises blood sugar levels quickly.

When choosing whole-grain food products, watch out for those with added sugars. For example, molasses is sometimes added to wheat bread, or sugar is sometimes added to oats for sweetened granola. Just check the nutritional facts labels and ingredients list.

Choose Complex Carbs

Aside from whole grains, dietary sources of complex carbohydrates include legumes and starchy vegetables. The fall and winter seasons produce many of these foods, like potato and winter squash. They have a similar nutritional effect to whole grains, as they provide a rich blend of nutrients. Beans, lentils, peas, oats, and quinoa are all complex carbs that provide even more benefits: They are higher in protein than other carbohydrate foods.

These carbohydrates are called complex because they take longer for your body to digest. When carbohydrates digest more slowly, they are less likely to prompt a rapid spike in blood sugar. They will keep you feeling full longer, too.

At Community Servings, we use lentils as a protein source in several entrees. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional difference between 1 cup of cooked white pasta and 1 cup of cooked lentils.

1 cup of white pasta

  • 42 grams of carbohydrate
  • 2.4 grams of fiber
  • 7.8 grams of protein
  • 60 milligrams of potassium

1 cup of cooked lentils 

  • 40 grams of carbohydrate
  • 15.6 grams of fiber
  • 18 grams of protein
  • 730 milligrams of potassium

Although both have roughly 40 grams of carbohydrates, the lentils provide more fiber, protein, and potassium. Think of how much fuller you feel from a portion of lentils, and for much longer!

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