Carbohydrate Confusion

Darren Ellis

Darren Ellis MSc, coaches youth, world champs and regular people in real world, effective strength training and nutrition to improve fitness, sport performance and body composition.  Check out his old school gym at

Carbohydrates and the role they play in a healthy diet has been the subject of a lot of confusion in the past.

In fact it is still confusing to most people!!

Good carbohydrates, bad carbohydrates, glycemic index, insulin, it’s no wonder people put diet in the too hard basket.   This article is intended to help clear up some of that confusion for you and set you on a clearer path to a leaner body and healthier eating.

First of all, let’s get something straight, I’m not a NO carb proponent, I’m "low” carb.  There’s a big difference (I certainly don't think extremely low carbohydrate diets are necessary).  But I do believe that the main reasons the vast majority of people struggle with weight loss is due to the over consumption of processed, refined carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, cereal, rice, and muffins, soft drink, juices, biscuits and crackers etc.  Losing weight while eating any of these types of carbohydrates (even if you are training your butt off!) is a battle you’re unlikely to win. Diet is 80% of the battle – you just can’t out-train a crappy diet.

The problem with carbohydrates is that they are easy to overeat.  We have a very limited storage capacity for glucose (what all carbohydrate becomes in our body), resulting in the excess being stored as body fat, not to mention the increases in cravings and overall appetite from this sort of easily digested, low fibre food.

Even carbohydrate sources that most people think are "healthy" are just high energy, low nutrient foods that are easy to eat to excess; such as breads and cereals.  Despite their health claims, have you actually tried to eat only the recommended serving size?  It’s tiny!  And you can take the “whole grain" thing as the clever marketing it really is.  Lax labeling standards allow foods with almost NO whole grains at all to still be labeled whole grain.  In reality, the first ingredient in them is refined flour, which is just going to spike your blood sugar and create an insulin surge. After years of eating excess processed carbohydrates, it becomes harder and harder for insulin to do it's job and continue handling all of this blood sugar, resulting in insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease and eventual type 2 diabetes for many people.

For most people struggling to lose weight, they would get much better results by following these types of guidelines:

1. Reduce overall grain-based foods in your diet (pasta, cereal, crackers, rice, etc)

2. Instead of grains for most of your carbohydrate intake, try getting most of your carbs from veggies, sweet potatoes, and a variety of berries and whole fruits (NOT fruit juices, which remove the beneficial fiber as well as other important nutrients in the fruit)

3. If you are going to get any grains at all, focus on the most nutrient dense and fibrous portions of the grain... the bran and the germ. This means that the healthiest ideas are using oat bran instead of oat meal, and using wheat germ and rice bran by adding them to your salads, yogurt, cottage cheese, soups, smoothies, etc. This way you get all of the most nutrient dense parts of the grains without all of the excess starches and calories.  Also look for sprouted grain breads at the health food store.

4. To replace the space on your plate from removing cereals, bread, pasta, and other carbohydrate sources... add additional fruits and veggies, plus healthy fats such as avocados, guacamole, nuts, seeds, nut butters as well as healthy proteins such as grass-fed raw dairy and grass fed meats, whole free-range organic eggs, etc. Healthy fats and protein sources go a long way to satisfying your appetite, controlling proper blood sugar and hormone levels, and helping you to make real progress on weight loss for life.

With all of that said, here's one of my favorite carbohydrate sources that is high in fiber as well as contains a high density of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals... it is kumara. Try microwaving or steaming kumara chunks for about 5 minutes. Finish them off by tossing them in a hot pan with a touch of grass-fed organic butter or olive oil, and you've got a delicious and healthy carbohydrate side dish!

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  • JW says
    This is one damn interesting article, lets just say it is lucky i just love Kumara aye.
  • Tom says
    "Diet is 80% of the battle – you just can't out-train a crappy diet."

    This is so true!
  • Marley says
    Yeah diet is the most important and so many people focus on training as the problem!!!
  • FlipFlop says
    Diet and exercise are very closely linked. Eat the wrong foods and your energy levels and motivation disappear, leading to a viscious circle of bad habits and sedentary living.
    The articles in this section, when read together provide a fantastic blueprint for turning viscious to virtuous and creating a healthy sustainable lifestyle.
    Improve your food inputs, work on developing healthy habits and try to find excercises and activities you enjoy to keep fit and keep at it.

    I personally believe it starts and ends with diet, as it is incredibly difficult to maintain healthy activities without healthy foods.

    Love the site and look forward to more inspiration!

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