Understanding Carbohydrates

What Foods Contain Carbohydrates

Grains/Flour-based Foods (See Good Complex Carb list below for desirable choices)

  • Bread, buns, bagels, English muffins, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, pizza crust, tortillas, corn bread
  • Cereals (hot and cold), low fat granola
  • Pasta, rice, barley, couscous, bran, cornmeal
  • Low fat or fat-free crackers/chips

Beans & Legumes

  • All dried beans (kidney, chickpeas, chili, refried, etc.), lentils, peas
  • Peanuts and tree nuts (contain fats & carbs, save for Fun Food Day)


  • Fresh fruits and berries
  • Frozen fruits and berries (look for ones with no added sugar)
  • Dried fruits (try to limit/avoid)
  • Fruit juices (try to limit/avoid)


  • Fat-free, low fat, soy and almond milk
  • Fat-free Half-and-Half, coffee creamers (limit/avoid)
  • Fat-free and low fat yogurts
  • Low fat or fat-free pudding
  • Soft cheese and reduced/fat-free cheeses are higher in carbs than full-fat, brick cheeses
  • Check labels for carbohydrate and fat content. Remember serving size!


  • Starchy vegetables - potatoes, yams, corn, peas
  • Root vegetables - carrots, beets, parsnips
  • Winter squashes - acorn, spaghetti, pumpkin
  • Cooked/caramelized onions


  • Jams and jellies
  • Ketchup, BBQ sauce
  • Honey, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses
  • Caramel/chocolate sauces, breakfast syrups
  • Some prepared tomato sauces (check label)

Sweets and Beverages (Save for Your Reward Day)

  • Cakes, cookies, brownies, muffins, pastries, candy, chocolate (even if it says sugar-free, likely still has carbs)
  • Snack bars (granola bars)
  • Soda, fruit juices
  • Beer, mixed drinks, cordials, liqueurs, sweet wines (drink in moderation)


Good Choices in Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are high-fiber foods which aid digestion, help maintain bowel regularity, and are associated with lower body weights and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.  Complex carbs are broken down into glucose more slowly than simple carbohydrates, and as a result they don’t cause wild blood sugar swings and cravings as simple carbohydrates do.  Try to focus on whole grain foods which contain the endosperm, bran, germ, and sometimes hull of the grain. Processed or refined grains contain only the endosperm or starch of the kernel, and therefore, less fiber and nutrients (unless they are added back in through “enrichment” or “fortifying”).  Complex carbohydrates can be found in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.  Below is a list of complex carbohydrates from the grain food group.


  • 100% Whole Wheat/Rye or 100% Whole Grain Breads - Be sure first ingredient(s) listed are whole grain flour or fiber, and not enriched or wheat flour - these are simply names for basic flour. Aim for breads containing around 10 net carbohydrates and greater than 2 g of fiber per slice (Nature’s Own brand carries quite a few that fit into this category).
  • Bagels – Again, choose 100% whole grain or whole wheat and check the ingredient list. Mini bagels, thin bagels, or bagels that are less than 2 oz are best. Most bagels nowadays are about 4 oz and contain 50-60 carbohydrates with little to no fiber!
  • Whole wheat or “Carb Balance” tortillas – Choose fajita (6 in) or taco (8 in) size tortillas and assure the first ingredients listed are whole grain flour or fiber. Aim for less than 15 g net carbs if medium sized (8 in) and less than 10 net carbs if small (6 in).


  • Cold cereal - Choose unsweetened or low-sugar, whole grain Good options include Kellogg’s Bran Buds, Hi Lo brand of cereals, Bare Naked products, some guide lines, less than 20 net carbs per serving, have some protein, less than 7 or less sugars. Recommend to use skim or unsweetened almond milk. Watch your serving size and be careful on adding sugar.
  • Hot cereal – There are many wonderful hot cereals to choose from including steel-cut oats/oatmeal (rolled or instant oats lose much of their fiber through processing), muesli, millet, cracked wheat, and whole multi-grain cereals. Good choices contain around 25 or less net carbs and 4 or more grams of fiber per ¼ cup (uncooked) serving. Hodgson Mill, Bob’s Red Mill, Arrowhead carry a variety of cereals that meet these guidelines.

Pasta, Rice, Miscellaneous Grains

  • Pasta – Choose whole grain, higher fiber pastas. A serving size is 2 oz of dry pasta.  The best pasta options contain around 35 net carbs and around 5 or more grams of fiber. (Good options include Barilla Plus, Mueller’s Multigrain, and Ronzoni Healthy Harvest).
  • Rice – Whole grain brown rice and wild rice contain more fiber, protein and other nutrients than white rice because only the hull or outermost layer of the grain is removed. Nutritional content should be similar among brands and contain about 4 grams of fiber per cup of cooked brown rice.
  • Other – Try to incorporate new whole grains into your diet: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oats, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, spelt, and wild rice. These are all great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and some essential amino acids. Follow the serving size on the package, usually ¼ cup dry.