Carbohydrates 101 – Why The Controversy?

 wheateight kinds of beans rice

Grains, Legumes, and Beans

This is the food group that generates the most debate in nutrition today; no-carbs, low-carbs, and excess carbs. The message can be confusing and determining carbohydrate  intake is the most challenging part of creating an optimal nutrition plan.

Many of the misconceptions about carbohydrate intake contain bits of truth that tend to get exaggerated. We’ll touch on a few of the most important things to consider in this lesson such as excess carbs,  low-carbs, the best sources of carbs, gluten sensitivities and the effects on health and weight management.

Carbohydrates humans consume are so heavily processed that the foods look nothing like the plants they came from. These highly processed foods lack the nutrients that help us feel satisfied, so we crave more and more of them. In the last century, people have become programmed by marketing to consume a high-carbohydrate diet made up of processed foods converted from wheat, corn, and potatoes as their main source of energy. As a result of excess carbohydrates consumed this way, people have become afraid of carbohydrate containing foods.

Excess Carbohydrates

Eating excess carbohydrates daily (especially the wrong kind), puts a constant stress on the body and the hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels. The effect is a blood-sugar rollercoaster.

As blood sugar levels rises-insulin raises ­ and blood sugar levels fall, then cravings for carbohydrates increase.­

simple carbs image

Eating a bowl of breakfast cereal, muffin, pastry, or other sugar laden grain product starts the cycle; it will provide plenty of refined carbohydrates to start the blood sugar rollercoaster (even if the box says “contains whole grains”).

  • By giving in to those cravings and snacking on carbohydrates, the cycle begins again.
  • Replacing all those carbohydrates at breakfast with more protein and healthy fat helps maintain blood sugar levels during the day, which helps control cravings for those unnecessary high-carbohydrate snacks; it will keep you fuller-longer.
  • It’s very important to understand the effect of excess carbohydrates on your body.
  • Eating excess carbohydrates can keep your body from burning fat.
  • Unless you’re a high-performing athlete with an athletic body fat percentage, excess carbohydrates are not necessary.

Weight Management Tips

By following a few simple guidelines, you may be able to easily manage your carbohydrate intake to maintain a healthy weight:

  • When you look at your plate, look at the carbohydrates as a side, not as the main course. Load your plate with vegetables, add some protein and then add a little bit of carbohydrates, remember carbohydrates are important, but not with every meal.
  • Cut out gluten. When The New England Journal of Medicine lists 55 diseases with associations with gluten that should be a red flag that it may not be appropriate as a regular part of the diet, at least not the GMOs, try ancient grains instead.
  • Determine your exercise goals before deciding what your weekly meal plan will look like, so you can adjust your carbohydrate intake; the more active, the more carbohydrates needed.
  • Sugar, refined flour, and other carbohydrates are a major part of the Standard American Diet. Though they taste good, are inexpensive, and may even (temporarily) help us feel better when we’re under stress, consuming excessive amounts can be a problem.
  • Be sure you’re consuming enough vegetables, fruit, protein, nuts and seeds. Then add traditionally prepared carbohydrates.

When you combine a high-carbohydrate, highly processed diets with an inactive lifestyle, the results are more than weight gain and insulin issues; the rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and a variety of other illnesses are growing at alarming rates. The good news is that we can dramatically change our health, energy levels and physical conditioning.

The Good News

These foods add variety and interest to the diet. They are a source of many nutrients, including B vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. However, all seeds contain phytic acid; what scientists refer to as “anti-nutrients,” substances that block the assimilation of minerals, block digestion and irritate the intestinal tract. Therefore need to be properly soaked or sprouted.

A Proper Soaking/Spouting

Traditionally, grains were very carefully prepared to lower the levels of these compounds and neutralize the phytic acid to make grains, legumes and beans easier to digest.

Tip: Use homemade bone broth to cook any kind of grains and rice for soups and stews for ultimate nutrition and digestion.

Traditional Preparation Techniques Include:

  • Roasting
  • Long soaking in slightly acidic water such as whey, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda; followed by slow cooking, not pressure cooked which destroys vital nutrients.
  • Soaking grains in water, followed by slow cooking
  • Fermenting flour to make bread dough; sourdough bread

How To Properly Prepare Grains?

For simple instructions on soaking and cooking basic beans, click here.

These preparation techniques not only make these foods easier to digest, they also greatly increase vitamin levels. These preparation techniques ensure that people get sufficient nutrition. Using a slow cooker after a good soaking is a convenient way to cook, make sure you mark it in your meal plan, so you can plan ahead.


  • Canned beans
  • White flour
  • Pressure cookers
  • Commercial bread
  • Pasta (white and whole wheat), some alternative would be gluten free pasta once in a while.
  • Any food made from white flour or enriched flour
  • Packaged cereals
  • Processed foods

*Instead of cans, you can soak, cook and freeze portion sizes in Ziploc baggies or mason jars; defrost in fridge over night or if in Ziploc, run under hot water just enough to loosen from plastic and then place in a pot with water, cover and heat until beans are thawed. (Ziplocs are not the best choice, but compromises can be made.)

Best Food Source for Carbohydrates:

Grains group

Whole grains contain all of the parts of the original grain without being processed. They are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and contain some antioxidants that are not found in fruits and vegetables.

  • Barley
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Spouted Bagels
  • Sprouted or soaked Whole wheat bread
  • White basmati rice
  • Wheat bran
  • Muesli
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Soaked Oatmeal
  • Soaked or sprouted Muffins
  • Any other grain that contains the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain. 

Root Vegetables

  • Potato
  • Sweet Potato
  • Yams
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Radish


  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Asparagus
  • Kale  


  • Apricot
  • Dates
  • Blueberry
  • Banana
  • Fig
  • Grapes
  • Mango
  • Kiwi
  • Nectarine
  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon
  • Raisins

Legumes and Beans

Seeds that come in pods such as beans and lentils are legumes. Legumes provide additional minerals and protein in a diet where animal foods are limited. All legumes should be soaked a long time before cooking to neutralize the many mineral blockers and enzyme inhibitors they contain.

Beans and legumes are some of the healthiest carbohydrate you can eat. They both contain large amounts of fiber, minerals and complex carbohydrates. They are low in fat and are easily added to soups, chili and many other main courses.

  • White beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Green peas
  • Pinto beans
  • Pink beans
  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Cashews

Storage of Dried Grains:

Store in a cool dark place if it’s flour; placing bay leaves with dried grains usually keeps moths from invading. Displaying your grains, beans, and legumes on your counter top in nice glass containers with lids, is a great way to be reminded of what you have to use and need to replace, plus it makes a nice conversation piece. You can also use stainless steel containers, but they are not as pretty (avoid plastic).

Which Carbohydrates, Beans and Grains to Avoid?

The Soybean

  • Soybean is a legume that should be avoided unless it’s organic AND fermented. Most soy sauce in produced by a chemical process that creates high levels of MSG. Naturally fermented soy sauce, although more expensive, is a better choice.
  • Traditionally, Asians only ate soybeans in fermented form, and only in small amounts.
  • Soybeans are ALL GMO’s unless they are organic.
  • Soybeans contain many toxins including estrogen-like compounds that cause thyroid disorders.
  • Soybeans are endocrine disruptors.
  • When soybeans are processed to make food-like substances (new foods) such as soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein, more toxins are formed.

Simple Carbohydrate Sources to Avoid

  • Agave syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • High fructose syrup
  • Refined sugar
  • Fructose

What about Breakfast Cereals?

Modern dry breakfast cereals are made by a process called extrusion where grains are cooked at high temperature and pressure, which destroy any nutrient content. That is why you will see the word “enriched”, they have to put nutrients from a synthetic source back into it so it can have nutrients. Loads of sugar or high fructose corn syrup is added into these cereals as well as other toxic ingredients; unknown additives, colors and preservatives, not to mention the pesticides. The grain is a GMO, unless it’s organic, but even then, the nutrients are destroyed and difficult to digest. Sally Fallon mentioned in one of her lectures about studies with animals indicate that the extrusion process causes the proteins in the grains to become very toxic to the nervous system.

  • Eating boxed breakfast cereals, even if organic, are not a good way to start the day, especially for children, who need to concentrate in school.
  • Granola is another cereal that is difficult to digest. Fortunately, there are homemade soaked versions that are delicious. (Please check back soon for a recipe)
  • The best alternative breakfast is old-fashioned soaked porridges like oatmeal (not instant), or other grain; add butter or coconut oil, a natural sweetener like raw local honey or pure maple syrup, some nuts and fresh or dried fruits add extra nutrients and taste excellent too, you can even add a super food like chia seeds or freshly ground flax seeds. (Check the breakfast category for recipe.)

What About Bread and Baked Goods                                                                                                                       

Most bread is made with white flour, which does not contain many vitamins and minerals. You will see synthetic minerals and numerous additives along with unhealthy fats and oils added in the ingredient list. The flour is often bleached with a chemical that can be very harmful.

  • As an alternative to white bread, there are many brands of whole wheat and whole grain bread available, especially in health food stores. But these breads present problems of their own, because usually they are made without proper preparation. They can cause serious digestive problems, especially if gluten is one of the additives in the bread. You can easily make homemade bread, please check soon for recipes.
  • If you are unable to tolerate wheat or any grains containing gluten, look for gluten-free bread in the freezer section of your health food store, or you can make your own at home, there are plenty of good recipes on the internet. Sprouted gluten free bread is another option. Be sure to eat bread with plenty of good butter. Butter will help you digest the bread.
  • Read the label carefully as most bread products are using soy flour these days, which can cause thyroid problems and digestive disorders in people who are sensitive to soy.
  • The proper way to make bread is through sprouting or a long fermentation, resulting in a sourdough bread. Artisan sourdough breads is a better choice when buying bread. They cost more money than industrially processed breads; however they are rich and satisfying, so you will probably end up eating less.
  • As with bread, it is difficult to find commercial baked goods, including crackers. There are good homemade alternatives. Otherwise look for baked goods with a short list of ingredients and make sure they do not contain any soy ingredients or partially hydrogenated oil.
  • The key is proper preparation to ensure that the grains are digestible and all the nutrients in grains are readily available. 
  • It’s best to stay away from white flour.
  • Many high-temperature processing techniques in use today actually create more toxins in grains.

What about Gluten Issues?

A particular problem for wheat is a protein called gluten (also found in rye, barley and oats). Modern wheat (a new food), is higher in gluten than old fashioned wheat (a traditional food), and many grain products have gluten added – a processed food.

In sensitive people, gluten can cause a lot of damage to the intestinal tract, leading to digestive problems and malnutrition. Gluten sensitivities are a recent phenomenon since the original seeds have been genetically modified and improperly prepared. Often people with this sensitivity are diagnosed as having celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

It is best for everyone to eat a variety of grains, not just wheat, and to avoid products with gluten added, or whole wheat products that have not been properly prepared to enhance digestibility. Those with irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease will need to avoid wheat altogether and choose gluten free grains.

As consumers become more aware of the issues surrounding gluten consumption, food companies will look for alternatives to make the same high-carbohydrate foods in a “gluten-free” form. Eliminating gluten can be helpful, but eating high-carbohydrate, gluten-free foods are likely to have similar ill health effects and weight gain as the gluten-filled options.

A diet filled with vegetables, fruit, meat, seeds, nuts, and some other carbohydrates (depending on activity level) is likely a better way to eat for those with and without gluten issues.

  • It’s critical to take in sufficient amounts of protein and healthy fat, and then meet the rest of your energy needs with carbohydrates, not the other way around.
  • Gluten issue is a rather new illness amongst humans. The answer to the cause in the “alternative/holistic” world is the new foods- GMO grains and crops along with pesticide overload.
  • One thing of basic importance is that traditionally, grains, legumes, and beans were properly prepared just as you learned about nuts and seeds; they were soaked with an acid such as lemon, vinegar, whey, or baking soda. The soaking will begin the digestion process before you eat it, that way, it will digest properly and the nutrients can be properly assimilated.

 Gluten and Children

  • In order to avoid sensitivity and allergies to grains in children, it is best to avoid introducing these foods until baby is at least one year old, and preferably wait until two years.
  • Meanwhile, a nutrient-dense diet that includes egg yolks, liver, whole raw milk products, pro-biotics, meat and seafood will help baby build a strong intestinal tract so that he or she can enjoy a variety of foods without problems throughout life. When they are ready to introduce grains, beans, and legumes, make sure they are properly prepared.

Gluten and Chronic Disease

Gluten has become a pretty mainstream nutrition term. Many people understand it is a health concern, but they don’t know how or why. With as much as one-third of the population sensitive to gluten, it’s worth understanding more.The more startling statistic is that 99% of those who have issues with gluten are not aware of it.

Many chronic diseases seem to be related to gluten sensitivities. The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 health issues related to gluten.

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, these include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Anemia,
  • Cancer
  • Fatigue
  • Canker sores,
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • and almost all other autoimmune diseases

He also points out that the occurrence of full-blown gluten allergy, or celiac disease, has increased 400 percent in the past 50 years.

Can’t Medicine Help With Gluten issues?

Unfortunately, medications prescribed to alleviate the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance do not address or relieve the underlying cause; they just mask the symptoms. 

What Can You Do To Help With Gluten Issues?

Usually the best solution is simply eliminating gluten from your diet. There is a protocol called GAPS, it stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It is a temporary healing protocol that heals your gut. The point of healing your gut is to return to eating a variety of real foods without any negative symptoms, including carbs and grains. The GAPS diet has very positive results if followed properly.

  • It may be better to go back to the way we originally ate before all the gluten-filled options were available.

 Determining Gluten Sensitivities

 There are a few ways to test for gluten sensitivities. They include a blood test, skin-prick test, food challenge testing and an elimination diet.

The easiest thing to do may be an elimination diet. Eliminate all gluten-containing foods for two to four weeks and then reintroduce them.

During the elimination phase, you may feel better. Or may feel the same, but notice a difference once you reintroduce gluten to your diet. You may also find that the elimination of many of the carbohydrate-containing foods during this time leads to other positive changes such as weight loss, increased energy, decreased blood pressure and/or improved blood lipid profiles.

List of Gluten Free Sources

  • Basmati rice (all rice)
  • Black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Chickpeas
  • Coconut; flour, meat
  • Corn
  • Corn tortillas
  • Fava beans
  • Flax seed
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Lentils
  • Millet
  • Oats (gluten-free)
  • Pinto beans
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes; white, yellow, red, brown
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potatoes

 Gluten-Containing Sources

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Food starch
  • Grits
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Wheat
  • White flour
  • Whole grain
  • Whole wheat flower 

Please check back often or follow my blog for upcoming recipes of various breads and recipes.


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