Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Daily limit for a green badge: 45% of total calories (225 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet) (35% in Lark Diabetes or 175 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet))

Meal limit for a green badge: 75 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet (58 grams in Lark for Diabetes)

What is good about carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are a main source of calories, or fuel. Sugars and starches are types of carbohydrates that have 4 calories per gram. They can preserve muscle mass by allowing your body to use carbs for fuel during exercise instead of breaking down muscles for their protein as a source of fuel.

Many foods that are high in carbohydrates are also rich in other nutrients, such as fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, or nutrients in plant-based foods that may have health benefits. In addition, many healthy-carb foods are linked to lower risk for obesity and/or other chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Consumption of whole grains, vegetables, nuts and peanuts, fruit, and legumes such as beans and lentils have all been linked to health benefits.

Why Lark suggests keeping carbohydrates below a certain limit

Eating too many carbohydrates can lead to problems. Since carbohydrates and high-carb foods have calories, eating too much will cause weight gain, which can raise risk for, or make worse, conditions such as prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Another problem with sugars and starches is that they are types of carbohydrates that drive up blood sugar. After eating them, blood sugar rises and causes a spike in insulin. Over time, this increases diabetes risk or, if you have prediabetes or diabetes, makes blood sugar control far more difficult.

Sources of carbohydrates

Eggs, chicken, poultry, fish, most shellfish, and meat have no carbohydrates. Neither do fats, such as oils, butter, and shortening. These are some foods and beverages with carbohydrates.

  • Starchy vegetables: such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash, parsnip
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Rice and other grains, bread products, pasta, breakfast cereal, oatmeal, crackers, pretzels, chips, popcorn.
  • Beans, lentils, split peas, soybeans.
  • Fruit juice, dried fruit, canned fruit.
  • Yogurt and milk.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, flavored coffee beverages and lattes, and fruit drinks.
  • Candy, jam, jelly
  • Desserts, such as cake, pie, pudding, Ice cream, frozen yogurt, cookies, pastries.

Many non-starchy vegetables have only a tiny amount of carbohydrates. For example, a cup of broccoli has 6 grams of carbohydrates.

In general, less processed sources of carbs, and carbs that are high in fiber, fat, and/or protein, have less of an effect on blood sugar, or a lower glycemic index, than more refined carbs such as those high in sugar or refined starch.

While the glycemic index can help guide choices when trying to keep blood sugar from spiking, it does not tell the whole story. Some low-glycemic foods, such as a candy bar with nuts and chocolate, are less nutritious than some high-glycemic foods, such as a baked potato.

Tips for making carbs as healthy as possible

  • Less-processed sources of carbohydrates, such as vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruit tend to be higher in fiber or other natural nutrients.
  • More-processed sources of carbohydrates, such as refined grains, sugar-sweetened foods, French fries, and refined salty snack foods such as potato chips and crackers, tend to be lower in fiber and often higher in fat, sugar, or sodium.
  • For most people, a good goal is 2 to 3 small servings of carbohydrates per meal. This includes all high-carb sources, such as fruit, starchy vegetables, grains, sugary foods, milk, and beans.
  • Fiber content is a good guide for choosing healthier carbs.
  • Fiber, protein, and fat lower the glycemic index and can keep sugars and starches from spiking blood sugar, while delaying hunger for longer.
  • Almost all grain products have whole-grain versions.
  • Tuna, egg white, and whole-grain pasta, plus plain yogurt instead of mayo, can be substitutes for high-carb potato and pasta salads.

Ideas for getting healthier carbs and limiting total and refined carbs

  • Instead of potato or tortilla chips: Kale chips made with shredded kale massaged with olive oil and baked with black pepper, garlic powder, and/or parmesan cheese.
  • Mock mashed potatoes made with pureed cooked turnip, cauliflower, or carrots, or any combination of those three, plus garlic, nutmeg, black pepper, and milk.
  • Instead of tuna melt with fries: bell peppers stuffed with a mixture of tuna, fat-free yogurt, dijon mustard, garlic powder, chopped dill, topped with low-fat cheese slice and all melted, served with baked zucchini sticks
  • “Pasta” bake with cooked spiralized turnip “noodles” mixed with a sauce from fat-free cream cheese or cottage cheese, cumin, low-sodium broth, black pepper, and beaten egg whites, plus cooked chicken breast, topped (optional) with parmesan or blue cheese.
  • Peanut butter and blueberries, strawberries, or diced apples on whole-grain soft taco-size tortilla.
  • Pancakes made with oats soaked in hot water, egg, milk, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking powder, pureed pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Baked pasta made with whole-grain penne (or other pasta), roasted eggplant, broccoli, and bell pepper, tomato sauce, and chicken, shrimp, tofu, or fish.