Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

— Written By Janice Fields and last updated by

Most of us love our carbs – aka breads, cookies, cakes, and french fries! Carbohydrates are also found in fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, foods made from milk, sugar, and foods with added sugar. Carbohydrates are an important calorie source, providing 4 calories per gram.

One current food fad is cutting carbohydrates to 50 grams or less to help with weight loss. This can be temporarily effective, but it’s not sustainable. Such diets are usually low in fiber and certain vitamins. Research shows that blindly cutting back on carbs is not the best option for good health. Not all carbohydrates are villains; some are healthy and some not so healthy.

We must shift our focus to a healthier eating pattern. The bottom line is total calories make the difference in body weight. A variety of nutrient-loaded, whole foods can help improve health. Think of your carbohydrate choices as a continuum with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unprocessed whole grains on the “Eat More” end. Foods and beverages with added sugar should be on the “Eat Less” end of this continuum.

If there is truly a food villain, sugar is it. Each of us consumes an average of 152 pounds of sugar per year – more than 26-30 teaspoons of sugar per day! That’s 3 times the recommended amount of 6-9 teaspoons. We are drinking our sugar. At least 43 percent of our sugar intake is from soft drinks and sweetened beverages. Wow! One 20-oz. cola has 15 teaspoons of added sugar! Sugar is making us overweight and sick. It causes inflammation, which is the root of many chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

To decrease added sugar in your diet, the first line of defense is to read labels. Don’t be fooled by processed foods like salad dressings, pasta sauce, and peanut butter. They may not taste sweet, but they have added sugar. Choose unsweetened products and control how much sugar you add. Read the label and set a better table!

Cutting out all sugar is not wise. For example, fruit has natural sugar but is high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber – all of which have positive impacts on health. Choose whole fruit over any processed food.

Try cutting back on refined carbohydrates like white bread, crackers, and, yes, even white potatoes. Examples are hamburger buns, pizza crust, and french fries. French fries are the third most eaten food in the United States, behind hamburgers and hot dogs. Pizza is the fourth most consumed food. We are not saying to never eat any of these foods, but choose them occasionally.

Consider these four tips:

  1. Wean yourself off super sweet flavors. Work toward 3-6 teaspoons a day of added sugar. Do this by reading labels and eating more whole foods. Since added sugar is a culprit, limit sugar in your diet by drinking less sugar.
  2. Eat less white potatoes and corn. Instead, use potatoes and corn as components of a dish. Try making a mash with half cauliflower and half potatoes.
  3. Start putting healthfulness back in your diet. Eat grains as whole grains, not foods made from grains. Eat more whole grains like bulgur, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa; eat less bread and crackers.
  4. Use whole grains as a canvas for more healthy foods like olive oil, fruits, vegetables, and beans.

For more information, please contact Janice Fields, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at, or visit our website at //

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