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How Carbs Fit into a Healthy Diet

Updated: Mar 20

Macronutrients Carbohydrates Carbs Fiber Gut Health Microbiome Metabolic Health Healthy Food Diet Nutrition

Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient found in many foods and beverages. Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, seeds, and beans, peas, and lentils. Food manufacturers also add carbs to processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar. While some biohackers may argue that there is no such thing as essential carbs, I disagree.

Carbs Play a Crucial Role in Achieving Metabolic Flexibility

Metabolic flexibility is defined by the efficiency of mitochondria in using sugar and fat alternatively. In other words, ketones and glucose can be used interchangeably. Metabolic flexibility is the key to maintaining great shape, high energy levels, and overall well-being.

Mitochondria act as energy factories, receiving fuel sources and producing energy called ATP. It's crucial to have mitochondria producing quality ATP and an abundance of healthy mitochondria. Looking at the electron transport chain, the process by which mitochondria produce energy, a molecule of glucose yields about 32 to 36 ATP units, compared to a molecule of ketones, which yields about 120 to 260 ATP molecules. That's approximately 400% more energy. Your mitochondria produce significantly more energy when utilizing protein and fats (ketones) than when utilizing carbs and sugar (glucose).

The brain has the highest concentration of mitochondria. Hence, when people adopt a ketogenic diet, one of the first things they report is mental clarity. But raising cellular energy doesn't only enhance mental clarity; it also elevates your basal metabolic rate, leading to more calories burned even at rest. Combined with reduced insulin levels, this becomes an effective way to lose extra weight.

One might ask, why not stay in ketosis forever and enjoy all these benefits by skipping carbs? However, staying in ketosis indefinitely is not recommended. While keto is beneficial, the ultimate goal should be metabolic flexibility. The body needs to adapt to using different fuel sources. Prolonged ketosis may lead to weight loss stalls, thyroid issues due to inadequate insulin for thyroid hormone conversion, hormonal imbalances in women, and chronically high cortisol levels as the body taps into adrenals for gluconeogenesis. Therefore, it's advisable to strategically cycle in and out of ketosis. Book Consultation to learn more.

As you can see, carbs have a rightful place in the diet. However, some types of carbs can be better for you than others, similar to fats. It's important to learn more about carbohydrates and understand how to make healthy diet choices.

Net Carbs and Glycemic Index

The terms "low carb" or "net carbs" often appear on product labels. However, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't use these terms, so there's no standard meaning. Typically, "net carbs" refers to the amount of carbs in a product excluding fiber or both fiber and sugar alcohols.

You've probably also heard about the glycemic index, which classifies carbohydrate-containing foods based on their potential to raise blood sugar levels. It's advisable to limit foods that rank higher on the glycemic index. Examples of foods with a relatively high glycemic index include potatoes, white bread, and refined flours found in snack foods and desserts.

Many healthy foods naturally have a lower glycemic index, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products.

Limit Added Sugars

There's no health benefit to any amount of added sugar. In fact, we can state that there's no such thing as essential added sugar. When you consume carbs, they break down into simple sugars, entering the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin, prompting cells to absorb sugar, leading to a subsequent drop in blood sugar levels. Consuming too many carbs with a high glycemic index and sugars can result in unpredictable spikes, making your body less sensitive to insulin.

When cells in the muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to insulin and can't easily take up glucose from the blood, it's called insulin resistance. This worsens for those not getting enough exercise, sufficient sleep, or experiencing too much stress. Insulin issues lead to insufficient glucose absorption and excess glucose in the bloodstream.

High blood sugar causes symptoms such as low energy, brain fog, uncontrollable hunger, and irritability, among others. Insulin resistance is one of the hallmarks of aging, increasing the risk of heart attacks, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, being overweight, difficulty losing weight, osteoarthritis, macular degeneration, and more.

As we age, we automatically become more insulin resistant. It’s a part of the aging process. However, you can considerably slow down the pace of insulin resistance. The opposite of insulin resistance is insulin sensitivity. The more sensitive and less resistant your body is to insulin, the healthier. It’s crucial to maintain insulin sensitivity for as long as possible.

So, choose your carbohydrates wisely. Limit foods with added sugars and refined grains, such as sugary drinks, desserts, and candy. These are high in calories but low in nutrition. Instead, focus on eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose whole grains, which are better sources of fiber and other essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, compared to refined grains. Refined grains go through a process that strips out parts of the grain, along with some of the nutrients and fiber. Eat more beans, peas, and lentils. They are among the most versatile and nutritious foods, typically high in folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium.

Three Main Types of Carbohydrates:

  • Sugar: The simplest form of carbohydrate, occurring naturally in some foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Types of sugar include fructose, sucrose, and lactose. Added sugars are found in many processed foods such as cookies, sugary drinks, and candy.

  • Starch: A complex carbohydrate made of many sugar units bonded together. It occurs naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.

  • Fiber: Also a complex carbohydrate, fiber doesn’t digest on its own but is vital for maintaining gut health. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.

Out of these three types, the importance of getting enough fiber in your diet cannot be overstated.

What is Dietary Fiber?

Fiber is not usually classified as a macronutrient in the traditional sense because our bodies don’t actually digest fiber on our own. Our microbiome can digest it and use it to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as postbiotic Butyrate. These acids are critical for maintaining the cells lining the gut wall and supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the gut.

Fiber doesn’t just support gut health; it helps with a laundry list of metabolic functions, including improving insulin sensitivity, lowering the risk of heart disease and obesity, stabilizing blood pressure, lowering serum cholesterol, and enhancing weight loss.

A few types of fiber include Fructo-oligosaccharides, Galacto-oligosaccharides, Inulin, Cellulose, and Resistant starch. Along with these specific types, we can split dietary fiber into two main categories: soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can act as a thickener, beneficial for soothing the gastrointestinal lining and encouraging GI motility. Soluble fiber provides fuel for the probiotic bacteria in the colon that create beneficial nutrients like SCFAs.

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and moves more slowly through the digestive tract. While it can contribute to GI health, it doesn’t provide as great of a food source for our microbiome as soluble fiber does.

How Much Fiber Do You Need?

The recommended fiber intake for children and adults is 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories. For most adults, this translates to between 25-38 grams per day. Individual needs may vary, and it's essential to aim for a variety of different plant foods in your diet.

You can gauge whether you're meeting your fiber needs by how you feel. If your meals leave you satisfied and keep you full for 3-4 hours, and your digestion is regular (at least one bowel movement per day), you're on the right track. If not, consider gradually incorporating more fiber into your meals.

Foods High in Fiber


  • 1 artichoke, 8.7 grams

  • Acorn squash, 1 cup cooked, 9 grams

  • Green peas, 1 cup cooked, 8.8 grams

  • Broccoli, 1 cup cooked, 5 grams

  • 1 medium potato, 4.7 grams

  • 1 medium sweet potato, 3.9 grams


  • Figs, 1 cup dried, 14.6 grams

  • 1 medium avocado, 13 grams

  • Coconut flour, ¼ cup, 10 grams

  • Raspberries, 1 cup, 8 grams

  • Blackberries, 1 cup, 7.6 grams

  • 1 large apple, 5.4 grams

  • Almonds, ¼ cup, 4.5 grams


  • Split peas, 1 cup cooked, 16.3 grams

  • Lentils, 1 cup cooked, 15.6 grams

  • Black beans, 1 cup cooked, 15 grams

  • Mung beans, 1 cup cooked, 15 grams

  • Chickpeas/garbanzo beans, 1 cup cooked, 14 grams

  • Lima beans, 1 cup cooked, 13.2 grams

  • Kidney beans, 1 cup cooked, 11 grams


  • Oats, 1 cup cooked, 4 grams

  • Wheat bran, 1 cup, 25 grams (Note: This can be difficult to digest!)

  • Brown rice, 1 cup cooked, 3.5 grams

No One in America is Getting Adequate Fiber

If you count how much fiber you have in your diet each day, most likely you do not get enough. Research suggests that the average woman is getting 15 grams a day, and she should be getting at least 25 grams. The average man is getting around 18 grams a day and needs at least 38 grams. This is a massive deficiency! 

That's why I suggest my clients take supplement Avini's Plus Fiber . It is a natural, delicious and easy-to-use whole-food fiber drink mix accompanied by micronized and activated zeolite, which provides 10 grams of dietary fiber (6 grams soluble, 4 grams insoluble) per daily dose.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Sending Optimal Health & Ultimate Wellness,

Julia Smila, FDN Practitioner & Pranic Healer

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