Eat Clean Guide to Carbohydrates

Eat Clean information about carbohydrates


like Proteins and Fats are a macronutrient that are found in certain foods and also drinks. Your body converts carbohydrates, except fiber, to sugar which is moved into the blood and, with the use of insulin, into cells for use as energy or stored for later use.

Why Do We Need Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are used by our body for:

  • a main fuel source;
  • proper function of our central nervous system, kidneys, brain, muscles and heart;
  • intestinal health and waste elimination

How Much Carbohydrate Do We Need

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that we need in the largest daily amount. According to the USDA we need 45% – 65% of calories should come from carbohydrates.

Source of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are most commonly found in fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, seeds, legumes, potatoes, fruits, yogurt and cottage cheese.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are either a sugar, starch or fiber.

Sugar is the simplest type of carbohydrate. It is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Sugar is added to processed foods to the point that it is almost impossible to avoid added sugar in some form.

An Eat Clean meal plan should try to avoid and greatly reduce simle carbohydrates.

  • Fruit sugar is known as fructose
  • Table sugar is known as sucrose
  • Milk sugar is known as lactose.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate and naturally occurs in vegetables, beans and grains.

Examples of high starch vegetables are:

  • peas
  • black eyed peas
  • split peas
  • corn

Examples of high starch beans are:

  • lima beans
  • potatoes
  • lentils
  • pinto beans
  • kidney beans

Examples of high starch grains are:

  • oats
  • barley
  • rice

Complex (Good) vs. Simple (Bad) Carbohydrates

Complex (Good) Carbohydrates are nutrient dense and normally have a healthy amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly and the energy produced is released more slowly over a longer period than Simple (Bad) Carbohydrates.

Slow Burning (Good) Carbohydrates Include All:

  • Beans
  • Fruits
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains

Simple (Bad) Carbobydrates, on the other hand, have low nutriential density usually because the nutrients, vitamins and fiber have been refined or processed out of the food source.

Simple (Bad) Carbobydrates Inclulde All:

  • White flour
  • White rice
  • White sugar

Notice anything in common about those three examples.

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate and like starch also naturally occurs in vegetables, beans, peas and grains. Fiber only comes from plant foods so there is no fiber in animal products such as milk, eggs, meat, poultry, or fish. Fiber is indigestible so most of it passes through the intestines and is not digested.

How Much Fiber Do We Need

Adults need about 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Most Americans only get about half of what is recommended. Fiber’s benefit is that it contributes to digestive health, helps to keep you regular, and helps to make you feel full and satisfied after eating. Fiber naturally in food is better than added fiber or a supplement.

Good Sources of Dietary Fiber Include:


  • Black beans
  • Chick peas (garbanzos)
  • Kidney beans
  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Pintos beans
  • White beans


  • artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Corn


  • apples
  • Berries
  • Pears
  • Rasberries


  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal (steel-cut)
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole grain cereals three grams of fiber or more per serving
  • Whole grain breads (three grams of fiber per slice)


  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Peanuts

Glycemic Index

The use of Simple vs Complex to compare carbohydrates is really more of a historical function. A newer and what is considered a better way, known as the Glycemic Index, was developed to compare the impact on blood sugar of carbohydrate conversion to sugar.

The Glycemic Index is basically broken into three sections based on a 100 point scale.

Items with a lower Glycemic Index are more slowly converted to sugar.

Those on the higher end more quickly convert carbohydrates to sugar and thus tend to spike blood sugar levels and lead to chronic illnesses.

It is better to eat on the lower end of the Glycemic Index.

Range of the Glycemic Index

  • Low Glycemic Foods – 55 or less
  • Medium Glycemic Foods – 56 to 69
  • High Glycemic Foods – 70 or higher

Low Glycemic rated foods:

  • Help control Type 2 diabetes
  • Help control weight gain

  • May be anti-inflammatory

High Glycemic rated foods increase the risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • heart disease

The glycemic rating is generally higher for:

  • refined/processed foods
  • lower fiber foods
  • more ripe fruits and vegetables
  • lower fat and acid content foods

Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Load is used to compare foods for the impact on blood sugar compared to total digestible carbohydrate intake. Once again the lower the rating the better.

Glycemic Load Ranges are:

  • Low Glycemic Load – 10 or lower
  • Medium Glycemic Load – 11 to 19
  • High Glycemic Load – 20 or more

Examples of Foods that have a Low Glycemic Load (10 or under) are:

  • Bran cereals
  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Kidney beans
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Wheat tortilla
  • Skim milk
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Carrots

Examples of Foods that have a Medium Glycemic Load (11-19) are:

  • Pearled barley
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Rice cakes
  • Whole grain breads or pastas

Examples of Foods that have a High Glycemic Load (20+) are:

  • Baked potato
  • French fries
  • Refined breakfast cereal
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Candy bars
  • Couscous
  • White basmati rice
  • White-flour pasta

Whole Grain versus Refined Grains

Grains can be divided into either Whole or Refined categories.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Examples of whole grains include:

  • whole-wheat flour
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • oatmeal
  • whole cornmeal
  • brown rice

Bran is the outer hard shell and contains most of the fiber, B vitamins and minerals.

Germ is the next layer and contains nutrients like essential fatty acids and vitamin E.

The endosperm is the soft part in the center and contains starch. The least nutrient part of grain or rice.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ.

This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it only leaves starch and some protein which can be broken down and absorbed much easier and therefore leads to spikes of blood sugar levels and a feeling of being less full with the same quantities while grain food. Since we feel less full we eat more and tend to overeat refined foods.

Examples of refined grain products are:

  • white flour
  • de-germed cornmeal
  • white bread
  • white rice

Most refined grains are enriched which means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

Understaning the terms is key to understanding the information on the labels.

Carbohydrates and the Nutrition Label

On the nutrition label, the term “total carbohydrate” includes all three types of carbohydrates. In determining yor intake of carbohydrates you need to look at the “total carbohydrates but also the source of the carbohydrate. You cannot assume that the amount of carbohydrates in the form of sugar is entirely contained in the carbohydrate amount. You also have to look at the amount of sugar listed becasuse that number will include both added and natural sugars. You can recognize other sugars contained in the food product by looking on label for their chemical names which end in “-ose.” For example glucose (also called dextrose), fructose (also called levulose), lactose and maltose.

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