Eric Bakker N.D.May 14, 2022

Eric Bakker Naturopath » Recipes » Carbohydrates

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, examples of which include fibre, starches, and sugars, are very important nutrients that your body turns into glucose to give you energy.

Carbohydrates are also called carbs. They are a type of macronutrient found in many different kinds of foods and drinks. Carbohydrates, fat and protein are called macronutrients.


  • Macronutrients are the nutritive components of food that the body needs for energy and to maintain the body’s structure and systems functioning optimally. Macronutrients are the nutrients your body uses in the largest amounts.
  • Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed by the body in very tiny amounts. Their impact on a body’s health is critical, and deficiency in any of them can cause severe and even life-threatening conditions.

Carbohydrate-rich foods are an important part of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates supply glucose to the body, which is transformed into energy for biological functions and physical activities. However, carbohydrate quality matters; some carbohydrate-rich foods are superior to others.

Here are some quick links that will take you to different pages of interest:

Complex Carbohydrates And Simple Carbohydrates What’s The Difference?

What defines whether a carbohydrate is “simple” or “complex” is how rapidly it can be broken down inside your body and converted to energy. Simple carbs “burn fast” in your body. Your blood sugar can increase rapidly after consuming a soda drink. Water is a substance that doesn’t contain sugar, and therefore has no effect on your blood sugar, or circulation.

When it comes to Coca Cola, there’s around 10.6 g of sugar per 100ml. of the “Regular” stuff. That’s a lot of sugar, plenty to make your blood sugar go on a wild roller coaster ride! You can imagine what kind of an unhealthy future your body will have planned with all this “daily excitement”: diabetes, high blood pressure and maybe worse.

The healthiest and most complex carbohydrate sources are unprocessed or slightly processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes, which provide vitamins, minerals, fibre, and a rich variety of phytonutrients. You may be familiar with the term “good carbohydrates,” but it may be better to think of them as “healthy carbohydrates.” rather than “complex”.

Your blood sugar is a lot less likely to spike when you eat complex carbs, and when your diet is rich in complex carbs and very low in simple carbs you’ll also have a lot less problems regulating your appetite and weight.

How Does Your Body Process Carbohydrates?

Your body turns carbohydrates into glucose, which is also called blood sugar. Glucose then travels throughout your bloodstream which your body then uses as source of fuel to give you energy. Three key nutrients your body needs to help convert blood sugar to energy are Zinc, Vitamin B6 and Magnesium.

The amount of carbs, and their quality, (simple or complex) you consume affects how much sugar is in your blood.  When you eat a lot of carbs, your blood sugar level can go up. Hyperglycemia, otherwise known as high blood sugar, can make you more likely to get diabetes. Some people with low blood sugar don’t eat enough carbs and can develop a blood sugar problem called hypoglycemia.


I’ve always found that once I could persuade a patient to try eating a lot more complex carbs and kick the simple carb habit, their health (and waistline) would change over a period of time. For some it happened in 6 months, for others in two years. And it has always been that way for many who’ve seen me over time. When you hear the word carbohydrate focus on the word HYDRATE. The simple carbs cause a lot of “hydrating” to your body, and because you keep going back, time and again, your body eventually becomes and look puffy and hydrated.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple (refined) carbohydrates include sugars and refined grains that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. They include: white bread, take-away foods, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white rice, white flour, sweet desserts, doughnuts, ice cream, potato chips, alcohol, most types of chocolate & confectionery, soda drinks, many breakfast cereals, and other highly processed or refined meals, these are all unhealthy sources of carbs.

Such foods are rich in easily digestible carbohydrates, which can cause weight gain, and an increase in the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

What Are Total Carbohydrates?

Many foods you eat or drink may contain one or all of the three main types of carbohydrates. When a food or drink contains all three types, it is then called a “total carbohydrate”. Let’s now talk about each one of these three groups individually, you’ll get a much better understanding of carbohydrates that way.

What Are Sugars? 

Sugars tend to be very sweet, they are a simple and are broken down quickly in your body. Because of this, blood sugar goes up  and down quickly. When you eat sugary foods, you might feel a burst of energy, but then you might feel tired.

There are two main forms of sugar in your diet, the sugar found in foods (like milk or fresh fruits) and the sugar that has been added to your foods, like candy, canned fruit, juice, and soda. Other forms of sugars added to foods are baked goods, candy bars, and ice cream. Most canned fruit with juice will contain sugar, be sure to read any labels.

All sugars are broken down the same way by your body, because your body doesn’t know the difference between natural sugars and sugars that are added. But foods with natural sugars give you more than just energy. They also give you vitamins, minerals, and sometimes fibre. And this can make ALL the difference as far as how they are broken down and used by your body. Sugar has a lot of names, here are just a few:

  • Agave nectar.
  • Sugar (from sugar cane or sugar beet)
  • HCFS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)
  • Dextrose, fructose or sucrose.
  • Honey.
  • Molasses.

To keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, it is important to cut back on all added and especially refined sugar. Also, foods and drinks with a lot of sugar tend to have a lot more calories, which can lead to weight gain and a lot more problems down the road.
Limit white flour, desserts, candy, juice, fruit drinks, soda & all sweetened drinks, all foods that have been processed or have added sugar.

What Are Starches?

Starches are complex carbs, much more complex that the sugars are. Starches are different from simple carbs, the sugars, in that they consist of long chains of simple sugars. Simple sugars have very short chains, if any.
Starches are not only complex in their structure, they also contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals, unlike most sugars. (with the exception of pure honey)
Because starches are complex carbs, they take longer for your body to break down, and because of this, your blood sugar stays steady and your appetite is controlled to a much better extent. Those who consume plenty of starches tend to feel fuller for longer, reducing the need to snack.
Examples of starchy carbohydrates include:
  • Legumes and Beans: peas, lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, fava, etc.
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, and many types of fruits.
  • Vegetables: corn, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato.
  • Whole Grain Foods: brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta and many wholegrain foods.

What Is Fiber?

Fiber is found in foods that come from plants, like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that can only be found in plants, you won’t find any fiber in animal proteins or dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. You will find plenty in fermented foods like sauerkraut, however.

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is VERY good for you. Fiber can’t be broken down by your body, it passes through your body and is therefore cleansing. Most of it goes through the intestines, which stimulates digestion and helps it work better. Fiber also keeps your blood sugar level nice and steady, helps to lowers your cholesterol, and makes you feel full for longer. Doesn’t that all sound great?

The experts say that adults should eat between 25 and 30 grammes of fibre each day. Most people get less than half of that, way less. Is it any wonder so many people end up with digestive health problems?

Foods that are high in fibre include:

Legumes and Beans: like pinto beans, black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.
Fruits: especially those with an edible skin (like apples, stone fruit & berries)
Seeds and Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame & sunflower seeds.
Whole-grain foods: like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, cereal, and whole-wheat bread and pasta.
Vegetables: Corn, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leeks, squash, carrots, and many more.

Is A Low-Carb Diet Healthy?

Is it healthy to eat only very few or no carbs? Some people cut back on carbs to help them lose weight.  The Atkins diet and the ketogenic (or Keto) diet are both super popular low-carb diets. Some doctors suggest the keto diet for people with epilepsy and other health problems.

You probably know my take on this approach – tight rules about “what you can and can’t eat” can be hard to follow for a long time. And, on some low-carb diets, there are a lot of animal fats and oils. Some of these foods can make you more likely to a gut problem if your body can’t digest all this protein and fat. And, is it really sustainable? Many people follow this low-carb approach to lose weight, only top slowly drift back to old ways of eating and living. I’ve seen it done a thousand times or more.

Thanks to the internet, too many people now believe that carbs are either “good” or “bad.” As with all foods, the key to eating carbs well is to choose wisely and eat less of the ones that aren’t as good for you.  Your best bet is to choose carbs that are high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Eat a tiny amount of foods with added sugars. The less refined sugar you eat – the better. Let’s now discuss the right carbs to eat.

 Choosing The Right Carbohydrates 

  • Fill over half of your plate with vegetables.  It is a known fact that the more colourful vegetables are the ones which are highest in antioxidant value. So the more colour and variety of vegetables on your the plate, the better. Potatoes, French fries, sweet potato and pumpkin don’t really count as vegetables, because they are high in fast-digested starch, which has a similar roller-coaster effect on blood sugar and insulin as the more refined carbohydrates such as white bread and confectionery (sweets). These blood sugar surges (in the short term) can lead to hunger and overeating, and you will find that in the long term these blood sugar fluctuations can lead to weight gain and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other health problems related to inflammation in particular. Try to eat fresh fruits away from your main meals, as a snack, but if you suffer from adrenal fatigue, I’d like you to read the article entitled eating for fatigue to gain a better understanding on why eating lots of fruit for breakfast is one of the worst things you can do if you suffer from fatigue. This concept was quite popular in the 80’s in particular, with the “Fit For Life” dietary approach.
  • Vegetables confer many health benefits. It’s hard to argue with the health benefits of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, amongst the many health benefits you will find lowered blood pressure; a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and probably some cancers (one third of cancer is linked to diet) ; lower risk of eye and digestive problems; and a mellowing effect on blood sugar that can help keep appetite in check.
  • Dark leafy greens are the MOST dense nutritionally: For optimal health, aim for at least 4½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day. Select a variety of different kinds and colours of produce, to give your body the mix of vital nutrients (especially the trace elements and minerals) it needs. The best vegetables? Go for the dark leafy greens, cooked tomatoes, and any brightly coloured vegetable for example courgette (or zucchini), bell peppers, tomato, spinach, eggplants and radish.
  • Choose whole grain: whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and foods made with them, because they tend to have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin than the refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and other so-called refined grains. The less processed the grains, the better, and certainly  limit refined grains like white flour. Read more about whole grains.
  • Don’t fall for the “It’s 99% fat free” hype. Crappy advice. The food and beverage industry would like you to believe that “fat makes you fat” and should be avoided at all costs. Have you noticed on TV: “But it’s 99% fat free”. I recently saw an advertisement for example regarding 2 minute noodles, claiming they were “fat free”. How can refined carbohydrates NOT be classified as weight-gaining foods when they cause such dramatic blood-sugar responses to occur? Remember, it’s the carbohydrates that are more inclined to make you FAT (bread, wine, chocolate, take-out pizza, soda drinks, candies, etc) than the animal fats. Choose the RIGHT carbohydrates – vegetables are the best source.

I think you’ve now got a good picture of carbohydrates, and the BEST and WORST carbs to eat & trust you enjoyed reading this page.

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