Moderate Carbs for Maximum Health

By now, after so much time with Lark DPP, you may be almost an expert at nutrition for prediabetes. There have been a lot of messages about weight loss strategies and choosing healthy foods to lower diabetes risk

Carbohydrates have been in the spotlight, too. Having too many can be bad for weight loss and blood sugar, but there is no reason to avoid them entirely, as the Lark DPP check-in talked about. The trick is to have the right ones in the right amounts and with the right foods – and it is not that difficult to do so!

Healthy Carbs, Healthy You


Sugars and starches are types of carbohydrates that add calories to your diet and increase your blood sugar. They are in many healthy and many less-healthy foods. You do not need a lot of carbs to survive, but having a moderate amount from nutritious foods can have health benefits.

Less-nutritious high-carb foods to limit include sugar-sweetened beverages, refined white bread, pasta, and rice, sweets such as candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, and muffins, and sugar-sweetened foods such as flavored oatmeal, sugary cereals, flavored yogurt, and tomato soup.

There are no guarantees in life, but eating the following high-carb foods in place of less-nutritious high-carb foods or in place of unhealthy fats can lower risk for obesity, diabetes, or other conditions.

  • Whole grains, such as whole grain bread, pasta, and cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, sorghum, popcorn, farro, quinoa, and bulgur.
  • Beans, split peas, and lentils.
  • Fruit, such as berries, oranges, apples, pears, cantaloupe, watermelon, and grapes.
  • Plain yogurt, cottage cheese, and reduced-fat milk.
  • Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and winter squash.

How you prepare the food matters, too. Apples made into sugary apple pie, sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows, buttered popcorn, and buttery mashed potatoes, for example, are far less healthy than their plain counterparts.

Fractions on Your Plate


An easy way to get a good amount of carbs and help yourself to a balanced meal is to use fractions on your plate. The Lark DPP check-in said that high-carb foods can make up about one-quarter of the meal. Do not worry if math is not your thing; you do not have to be a math whiz to master this lesson on fractions.

The only tool you need to get a balanced meal, no measuring required, is the plate you are going to eat from during your meal. Mentally divide it into half, and place salad greens or other raw or cooked, non-starchy vegetables, on half of the plate. Divide the remaining half of your plate into half so that each portion is one-quarter of the plate. 

Lean protein can go on one of those quarters. That may mean chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese, yogurt, egg whites, or lean ground turkey, for example. 

The final quarter of the plate can contain the high-carb food(s) in the meal. It could be a slice or two of whole-grain bread, a scoop of brown rice, oatmeal, or whole-grain pasta, a piece of fruit, or a small baked potato. It could also contain a combination of two or more types of high-carb foods, as long as the portion of each high-carb food is smaller.

Finally, the meal may have some healthy fat. It could be a bit of salad dressing, some oil used in cooking, a few nuts or avocado slices, or some peanut butter.

Balanced Moderate Carb Meal Examples


Sometimes it really is as easy as it sounds to have ½, ¼, and ¼ of your plate filled with vegetables, protein, and starch. Other times, it is more complicated. Protein, starches, and vegetables in mixed dishes are, well, mixed. It is not possible to divide them up on a plate when serving them. Sometimes, the meal is not even on a plate. It may be in a bowl or in a few containers in a lunch bag.

Still, the concept is the same: a lot of vegetables, and a bit of other nutritious foods. Here are a few examples of balanced meals with moderate amounts of healthy carbohydrates.

  • Baked salmon tossed with whole-grain penne pasta, olive oil, asparagus tips, and garlic and herbs.
  • Chicken stir-fried with vegetables, sesame oil, and low-sodium teriyaki sauce served with brown rice.
  • Baked sweet potato casserole with onions, spinach, tomatoes, and lean ground turkey cooked in olive oil, and Italian seasonings.
  • Egg whites with zucchini, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese with a slice of whole-grain toast.
  • Low-sodium chicken vegetable barley soup.
  • Open-faced turkey burger on half of a whole-grain bun with sauteed mushrooms, served with a side salad.
  • Peanut butter sandwich on a whole-grain English muffin, served with carrot sticks.

More and More


How often in life do you get to eat as much as you want without feeling guilty? How about every day? That is the case with non-starchy vegetables. If that half-a-plateful serving leaves you wanting more, go right ahead. Another green salad, a second helping of steamed vegetables, and a handful of raw vegetables whenever you get the munchies can fill you up without adding many calories.

Allowing yourself to eat moderate amounts of carbs can make life easier as well as healthier. Going for higher-fiber, less-processed ones and serving them with a mound of vegetables and a few other healthy foods can be the path to easy, sustainable weight loss and blood sugar control.

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Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

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