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Ask the Diet Doctor: What Counts as a Carb?

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What Counts as a Carb?
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Q: My dietitian told me to cut back on carbs, but I’m confused about what counts as a grain and which vegetables are starches.

A: When restricting your carbs, start with the most carbohydrate-dense foods in your diet: foods with added sugar. Then work your way to reducing grains and pastas, then potatoes and corn, then the remaining starchy vegetables.

The exchange system from the American Diabetes Association groups different foods by similar nutritional characteristics. According to their list, the following are grains:

  • Wheat and whole-wheat flour
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Quinoa

And these vegetables are starches:

  • Parsnip
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Green Peas
  • Corn

While this second group is a good guideline, your major offenders—the highest-carb, lowest-fiber, fastest-digesting, lowest-nutrient vegetables—are potatoes and corn. The others may be starchy, but their fiber content and impact on blood sugar are better for you. Pumpkin, for example, has 20 grams of carbohydrates in one cup, but it also contains 7 grams of fiber.

Squash should be fine on your diet, unless you are trying to greatly restriction your carbohydrates in order to follow a ketogenic diet (<50g of carbohydrates per day). In that case, vegetables such as butternut squash, peas, and acorn squash will put you over your carb limit too quickly. But that still leaves you with great lower-carbohydrates vegetables, including zucchini, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, celery, and asparagus to name a few.

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