Carb Literacy 101: An RD's Guide To Carbs
Carbs tend to have a bad reputation in the world of nutrition—they've turned into this catchall, nebulous term of "carbs are the enemy," when in reality, there are numerous aspects that fall under the huge umbrella of carbohydrates. While many people steer clear of carbs altogether (hello, keto), dietitian Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN, believes carbs are an essential part of a nutritious diet—people just might not understand them enough to reap their many benefits.
"Carb literacy is a must," she tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
Feller sat down with me to discuss what her ideal dinner plate looks like, as well as her favorite seasonal picks at the Park Slope Food Co-op. It was then that I noticed how carbs make up the bulk of her plate—and no, I'm not talking about bread and pasta.
Here's Feller's ultimate guide to carbs, and why we should have more of them on our plate. After this lesson, you can consider your carb-confusion handled.
1. First and foremost: All vegetables are carbs.
When we think of carbs, those green veggies we've come to know and love might not be the first food group that comes to mind. But Feller reminds us that all vegetables, in fact, are carbohydrates—even the nonstarchy leafy greens.
She explains that these vegetables have a lower carbohydrate impact on blood glucose, meaning, these veggies don't give you as much of a blood sugar spike as opposed to starchy carbs like white potatoes. That's why, if there were a food pyramid for carbs in particular, these vegetables would make up the bulk of the base.
"When I work with people, I like to see the majority of the plate as a nonstarchy vegetable," she says. So the next time you're loading up your plate with leafy green veggies, remember that you technically are eating carbs—and that's not a bad thing!
2. If you're partial to starchy vegetables, legumes are great.
"I love to see legumes show up, probably daily," Feller adds. Legumes fall under the category of starchy vegetables (think potatoes, beans, and lentils), which have a higher carbohydrate impact than those leafy greens but are still a crucial part of any dinner plate, according to Feller.
She explains how these starchy vegetables help regulate blood sugar, which is why she's partial to including them in every dinner she cooks. Her favorite legumes? Feller likes to cook with black beluga lentils and adzuki beans on the regular (plus, these legumes offer a significant amount of protein, which is great for a predominantly plant-based diet like Feller's).
3. Whole grains are good—ancient grains are better.
Technically, whole grains fall into the starchy category, which is why Feller likes to give people the option to either have a whole grain or a starchy vegetable on their plate.
"You can choose if you'd like to have one or play with the ratio of how many you have," she says. In terms of which whole grains she loves, Feller sticks to the ancient grains—think quinoa, teff, and millet.
"They're so nutrient-rich," she notes.
So, if you're looking for a lesson in all things carbohydrates, let this be it: All vegetables (even leafy greens) are carbs. Starchy vegetables—especially legumes—are nutrient-rich with a high-protein content, and if you're still itching for a grain, the ancient ones are key.
With this "carb literacy" under your belt, you can have an easy, fibrous meal in no time. Feller's go-to meal, she tells me, is usually a sautéed vegetable with a whole grain, a healthy and nutrient-packed meal—and it's filled with none other than carbohydrates. Maybe it's time to be like Feller and shift our perspective on carbs from evil to necessary.
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