When you walk through the grocery store, you may flip over the back of products to see what kind of nutritional value everything has.
From being surprised to how much sugar is in that loaf of white bread to nearly dropping flat when you see the sodium content in soy sauce, checking nutritional facts can be enlightening.
But what about carbs?
What foods are high in carbs, and should you even be eating them?
One person will say a high carb diet is important. Another says you need to cut carbs completely.
Take everything you think you know about carbs and throw it out the window.
We have your answers on what foods are high in carbs and if you really should be eating carbohydrates, to begin with.
So What Exactly is a Carbohydrate, Anyway?
Before we dive into carb heavy foods, let’s look at what a carb actually is.
Now, if you wanted to really get scientific with it, a carb is a molecule made up of oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon.
Don’t worry, this isn’t high school chemistry all over again.
It is necessary to note the molecular makeup of carbs because carbohydrates share many similarities with the makeup of starch, sugar, and cellulose.
In the nutrition world, carbohydrates are broken down into two basic categories: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates give you around 3.87 calories of energy for every gram you intake, while this can increase to up to 4.12 calories per every gram of complex carbs you eat (the exact amount can vary from just over 3.5 to 4.12 (Live Science, 2015).
If you have Type II Diabetes, you already know the difference between these carbs (if you don’t, you need to).
For most of us though, the idea of different forms of carbs may be a bit foreign. Simple carbohydrates are easily broken down as these only consist of or two sugar molecules.
This means it spikes your blood sugar faster due to the fast absorption. Single molecular simple carbs include dairy (galactose) and fruit (fructose). Fructose is also used as a sweetener. The double sugar molecule simple carbs include lactose (also found in dairy) and maltose (which you’ll find in veggies and some grains).
Complex carbs come from whole grains, brown rice, certain cereals, corn and sweet potatoes. As the carbs are made up of more than two molecules, it takes longer for the body to break down the carbs. This typically offers prolonged energy calories and it does not have the same kind of blood sugar spike as simple carbs (Very Well, 2017).
So What Kind of Carbs Are Best?
Simple carbs are used to sweeten soft drinks and candy.
It must be the bad carb, right?
The processed form of simple carbs is bad. These carbohydrates come with empty calories, spike your blood sugar and have other negative health side effects.
However, the natural form of simple carbs, such as fruit and milk, contain important vitamins and minerals. In the way of milk, you also receive protein. So simple carbs are not bad, you just need to focus on natural carbs, not processed.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, are important because these are the kinds of carbs that come with fiber.
Fiber is a very important part of your diet as it essentially clings to fats, simple carbs, and other less desirable items and prevents it from being absorbed into the body. This is why you may see some food labels displaying a “Net Carbs” on the package.
Essentially, the company took the number of carbs on the label, subtracted the amount of fiber and came up with a “net carb” equation. Now, this isn’t exactly how it works, because the fiber grams do absorb more than just carbohydrates, so in all likelihood, the net carbs should be higher, but fiber does play an important role.
But a package doesn’t say if the food has simple or complex carbs.
What should you do?
By understanding the basics of which kinds of foods carbs come from, you’ll have a good understanding as to whether it is simple or complex.
Complex comes from grains, legumes, and forms of cereal (oats and barley). Simple sugars in anything other than fruit and milk is derived from sugar, so if you see it in processed foods, candy or anything not 100% fruit or milk, it is a simple sugar.
And yes, this means when you’re eating something with added simple carbs, basically you’re consuming the listed amount of sugar and the carbs, which likely come from a sweetener form of sugar (in other words, a lot of sugar) (Diabetes, 2017).
So What Food Has No Carbs?
Yes, the title of the article is “What Foods are High in Carbs.”
We’ll get to that.
Realistically, most of the food you consume has some level of carbohydrates in it.
That corn on the cob you ate at the work picnic?
The can of green beans you munched down at 2 am because you were completely out of food?
Yeah, that has carbs too.
The bowl of grapes you munch on throughout the day?
Nearly everything you eat has some kind of carb in it. Later on, we’ll go over what foods have the highest level of carbs, but for starters, let’s look at the foods with no carbs.
The Atkins Diet made waves a few years ago by allowing people to eat whatever they wanted, as long as it was low carb or carb free. So you’d see “dieters” ordering 32-ounce steaks in the name of “dieting.”
Truth is, most animal protein does not contain carbs. So all natural, not processed meats like chicken or beef have no carbs. It has to be natural though. Deli meat has added sugar and salt. Some processed foods like sausage and bacon also contain carbs. The eggs you eat have a very slight level of carbs (you’re looking at around .6 grams per egg).
So for the most part, if you go with natural form meat or animal protein, you’re good to go (it is also why chicken is a dieter’s dream food as it is low calorie, high protein and zero carb food).
Most fruits and vegetables have carbs.
However, there are a handful that essentially are zero carb foods. You’ll find trace level of carbs, but the amounts are so low it likely doesn’t even appear on the nutrition facts.
You know all the greens your mom tried to force feed you as a kid?
Yup, basically all of those are on the list, including spinach, chard, bok choy, collard greens, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, and asparagus. But don’t worry, it also includes mushrooms, so there are some non-green carb free plants (Love to Know, 2013).
So What Foods Are High In Carbs?
Have you ever sat in a restaurant, looked down the menu and just wondered how many carbs that thing must have?
Maybe you’ve seen a mouth watering advertisement for some kind of crazy new food item, but knew it probably would be a week’s worth of carbs (not to mention salt and calories). The fact of the matter is you can always add carbs to food by combining additional ingredients together.
Naturally, taking a burger and adding three more slices of bread will increase the carb count.
So we’re not going to list some of the outs of the ordinary food items. Instead, we’re going to tell you what more common foods are extremely high in carbs. By knowing this, you’ll be able to determine if some of the other food concoctions have crazy amounts of carbs or not.
So let’s put some of this into perspective. A bowl of penne noodles contains 33 grams of carbs. You can use that as a reference as we go through some of these other foods high in carbs.
Do you like mangos?
If you’re looking to cut carbs you won’t because one fruit actually has 50 grams of carbs (think how much it would be if the pit didn’t take up half of the fruit). It does have half your Vitamin C intake for the day, but it is loaded in simple carbs. Joining the list of fruit with high levels of carbs is bananas. Each banana (around nine inches) has 35 grams of carbohydrates.
However, the main benefit with bananas (and a reason you see the bulky guys behind the desk at your gym eating the fruit) is the magnesium in the fruit helps with protein synthesis, aka converting protein to muscle.
There is a misconception that if you ditch bread for a wrap you’re suddenly eating healthier. Not really, because the average wrap has 36 grams of carbs. This includes tortillas.
Why so high when it is so thin?
Wraps need additional fat in order to remain flexible. Although if you have the choice, go with a either a 100% whole wheat wrap or, at the very least, corn wraps at the taco joint instead of flour.
The burger at your fast food joint probably has way more in way of calories and salt, but your fries take the cake when it comes to carbs. A full 63 grams of carbs per serving. Take potatoes, which already have higher levels of carbs, then fry them in fat (oil) and it is a recipe for a high carb food (Eat This, Not That, 2017).
Are you a person who adds raisins to their morning oatmeal?
If you want some extra carbs, go ahead. If you’re looking to cut some carbs, skip it for some cinnamon (which is a great metabolic booster). That tiny 1.5 ounce box those weirdos across the street would hand out on Halloween when you were a kid pack 34 grams of carbs. That mini Snickers? 4.4 carbs (Diabetes Forecast, 2010).
Do I Want a High Carb or Low Carb Diet?
Before we get into which is right for you, it is important to point out that carbs have gotten a bad wrap lately. People point to carbs and blame it for their weight gain, health problems and really everything else.
It basically has become the nutritional Bogeyman.
The thing is, the kind of carb you eat makes all the difference.
Health carbs from whole wheat, fruits and veggies are good and provide you with energy. Carbs from processed sugars are what lead to health problems. So before moving forward, just understand that carbs can and often are good for you, as long as you eat natural carbs.
Outside of health reasons (such as Type II Diabetes), you should consider a low carb diet if you just want to drop weight. Maybe you’re overweight or you’re not going for muscle gains. When that is the case, a low calorie, low carbohydrate diet may be perfect for you. Some studies even indicate you’ll see an improvement in your mood and energy levels when moving to a low calorie, carb and fat diet from a higher fat and higher calorie diet.
So when is a high carb diet right for you?
Consider your activity level.
Do you workout every day and partake in athletic, physical conditioning?
If so, you need the additional energy from carbs. There are some medical situations that indicate you should eat carbs as well, including if you are pregnant or nursing, if you suffer from irregular periods or if you have developed sleep problems.
If you are looking to put on muscle mass carbs can help, but are not completely necessary. Carbs give you energy at the gym, but it is the protein that builds muscles.
If you are on a low carb, high protein diet, much of the protein you intake is turned into energy due to the lack of carbs, so you may need to increase protein levels, so just keep this in mind (Coconuts and Kettlebells, 2017).
You don’t need to be afraid of carbs. Natural carbs can help you and are important sources of energy. Every diet plan is a bit different and you know your own needs, so adjust your carb levels as needed. But the more you know about what you’re putting into your body, the better you can train and you’ll see faster results.