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Apr 1, 2011 10:37 AM

How to eat fewer refined carbs???

From everything I've heard and read, I'd be doing myself a big favor eating fewer refined carbs. I'm thinking it will help control my weight and give me more energy. But I am having the hardest time doing it and I'm looking for tips and inspiration from those who have been there. Reasons this is hard for me:

1. I love love love carbs. Bread, pasta, rice, pizza. I really can't envision life with these items dramatically reduced or altogether missing.

2. Carbs have a much longer shelf life than produce or proteins. I can use them days, weeks, or months after purchase, and don't always need to be running to the store.

3. When carbs go on sale, I can really stock up w/o worrying about spoilage, which makes them relatively cheaper than other foods.

4. If I haven't been shopping and I need to throw dinner together, my vegetables might be half wilted and my proteins still frozen, but the spaghetti can be on the table in 15.

Honestly, I think 2-4 are solvable with some advance planning on my part, and I frequently do some prep work in the evening for the next day (including moving the meat/fish to the fridge). It's #1 that is really tripping me up.

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  1. I know just how you feel!
    Start by replacing your regular pasta with enriched and whole wheat pastas. Do the same with all of your breads. Whole wheat or nothing.
    Just these 2 things will bump the nutritional value and protein up.
    Next, stock your pantry with grains such as quinoa, brown rices and legumes such as lentils.
    Use jarred beans and chickpeas too.
    I know this sounds a bit drastic and not fiscally friendly, but you'd do yourself a great service if you rid yourself of the low-value carbs such as white rice and regular pasta, and start anew.
    You will teach yourself a great deal about what your bad habits are, and where you need to start fixing them.
    And, yes, of course, donate your unused, non-perishable items!

    1. Just look for brown versions of white carbs (brown sugar doesn't qualify). Multigrain and whole wheat for breads, crackers, pasta. Sweet potatoes instead of white. Plain brown rice is chewy and not to everyone's liking, but brown jasmine and brown basmati are closer in texture to long-grain white rice. Quinoa and buckwheat (e.g. soba noodles) are other pasta alternatives. If you bake, use King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour. It IS 100% whole wheat but a different variety than the stronger-tasting ordinary whole wheat. It can be subbed for half the AP flour in most recipes, according to KA, but I use WWW only when making bread, cookies, bars, and quickbreads.

      16 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        Sweet potatoes instead of white


        White potatoes are not "refined carbs" any more than sweet potatoes are ... they just have different nutrtitional profiles than sweet (or redish-orange) ones.

        The flesh of sweet and regular potatoes are nearly identical in terms of how "refined" they are, which is very. The real nutritional power punch of potatoes -- no matter the type or color -- comes from the skin.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          NSCPC rates the nutritional value of sweet potatoes as almost twice that of white potatoes.
          Furthermore, they contribute to level blood sugar levels, unlike white potatoes.
          I mentioned them because people who want to reduce their refined carb intake are usually looking for the type of health benefits that subbing sweet for white potatoes can provide.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              Oops, copied the wrong abbreviation - meant Center for Science in the Public Interest

              1. re: greygarious

                ah, okay, you really had me stumped there! :)

                my trust in and support of CSPI has dwindled with each passing year - i actually just chose not to renew my newsletter for the first time in a decade. FWIW, their claims about potato nutrition don't pass muster with me.
                ounce for ounce, sweet potatoes do provide more vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and fiber (only 1 more gram per 7 ounces) than white potatoes...but white potatoes are higher in protein, phosphorous, iron, potassium, niacin and thiamin.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  Exactly. Differing nutritional values does not make one more or less refined than the other.

                  If you're looking nutritional value to determine whether something is refined, then a celery might be one of the most refined foods in the world, iceberg lettuce as well.

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I destroyed my metabolism and health following CSPI's cockamamie and completely unscientific guidelines years ago. I unsubbed in the late 90s, when I realized what a bunch of ill informed, dishonest zealots they were by doing my own Medline research.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      CSPI aside, and "refined" aside, sweet potatoes are more nutritious than potatoes and have a lower glycemic index. There are good arguments for eating them instead of potatoes when given the option. Especially in the case of sweet potatoes home-fries.

                      1. re: andytee

                        "more nutritious" is an arbitrary statement. glycemic load per serving is far more important than GI, and the GL of sweet potatoes is only slightly lower than white (14 vs 17).

                        this isn't to say that i'm pushing people to eat potatoes in *any* form, because i'm not. i just hate to see misinformation flying around that leads people to demonize certain foods unfairly.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          How is "more nutritious" arbitrary? I use "nutrient dense" per calorie in estimating such things. I think it's very clear that starchy carbs comparied to colorful, leafy, fibrous low carb ones are nutrient impoverished by comparison. But I'm all about demonizing such free loading foods. :-)

                          1. re: mcf

                            he didn't say nutrient dense, he said nutritious - they're not interchangeable, and nutritious is a very broad term with the potential for very loose and/or varied interpretation.

                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              ok, i was careless. nutrient dense. sweet potatoes are more nutrient dense than potatoes.

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                Of the two, I think "nutritious" is subjective in the same way that "healthy" is, so I rely on caloric density vs. nutrient content to make objective comparisons.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  Potatoes, in their natural state, are in no way "refined;" they are a completely natural product. They are, however, simple carbs, versus complex carbs.

                3. re: greygarious


                  you use only www. no ap flour? I will definitely have to buy that. How does it change the taste?

                  1. re: lilmomma

                    since it's been a while, I'll jump in - back when I was eating wheat, I used white whole wheat for cookies and most everything else. It's really MUCH less "gnarly" that some other whole wheats that I've had (none of that bitterness).

                    Also, have you considered mucking around with some of the other whole grain flours? I love baking with teff and Montina and the like. If you can blend them with wheat, so much the easier.

                4. Instead of thinking about what you can't eat, think about what you CAN eat. There's a whole world of food out there other than pasta, pizza and bread.

                  24 Replies
                    1. re: MandalayVA

                      Nothing wrong with pasta, pizza and bread.

                      All of them can, and probably should be, made with whole grains.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Whole-wheat pasta simply doesn't taste as good as regular.

                        1. re: Jay F

                          Right. It's disgusting and it's not any better for you, in terms of glycemic effects.

                          1. re: mcf

                            >>>it's not any better for you, in terms of glycemic effects.

                            It's not?

                            1. re: Jay F

                              I think what they are saying is it is still a simple carbohydrate even though it is better for you in terms of nutrition. Kind of like eating short grain brown rice versus white rice. It has more protein than white rice but is still a simple carb and therefore the glycemic index is similar.

                              Personally, I do like whole wheat pasta more than white but it took some getting used to at first. Now, white pasta just tastes like wet dough to me. You can always to to the USDA website or stand in front of bulk bins and read the different nutritional facts about each of the grains. You'll see the difference in nutrition but they are still simple carbs.

                              1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                The *only* reason I'm eating whole wheat pasta is because I understood it to be more diabetic-suitable than white pasta. I also believed this essential betterness would be reflected in a lower glycemic index. Not true? If I have diabetes, should I cut back equally on *all* pasta?

                                1. re: Jay F

                                  YES. Use this as a guide to figuring out what you can eat, at what time of day, and how much. Only thing outdated is the fasting number, it's ten points too high:


                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    I have Type 2 diabetes and couldn't stand the thought of giving up pasta. I also didn't care for the whole what stuff so I tried Dreamfield pasta which claims to be 65% lower on the glycemic index. For me this has been a great option. It's still made with semolina flour but doesn't impact your sugars as much

                                    1. re: Pegmeister

                                      Some diabetics can tolerate it, but most cannot when they test 3, 4 or 5 hours post meal. It has a very late, and looooooooong glucose spike for many. That's why meters are so important; YMMV. The only low carb noodle I seem to tolerate is Carba Nada from Al Dente foods. But mostly, I just live without. I used to be a pasta addict, now I never miss it.

                                      1. re: mcf

                                        I test 2 - 3 hours after and generally come in around 125. I've cut way back on pasta but just am not ready to give it up. Do like spaghetti squash though.

                                        1. re: Pegmeister

                                          I like spaghetti squash, but it doesn't make much of a pasta sub, does it? I like it as itself. Your meter is your best friend when it comes to figuring stuff out. I'd just encourage you to test for a couple more hours once in a while to see if you're getting the very delayed spike. Also, undercooking it helps, and not eating leftovers or using it in baked dishes, from anecdotes.

                                          1. re: mcf

                                            Thank you for the advice; it's actually has me kind of curious. So I will try testing 3-4 hours after the next time I have Dreamfinders. As for the spagetti squash, I love it topped with shrimp and garlic with some broccoli thrown in.

                                            1. re: Pegmeister

                                              If you detect it hasn't come back down to pre meal range, consider testing til 5 hours. Years ago, that's when I peaked, after the rise started at 4 hours.

                                              Your spag squash sounds delicious! I like it with shrim and strongly flavored toppings, too.

                          2. re: ipsedixit

                            Tell that to my digestive tract. And my blood sugar. PLENTY wrong with them, yes, even with the holy whole grains.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Which are all refined unless you're eating whole, unground kernels. Once it's been made into flour or meal, it's not a "whole grain." Once that happens *and* you cook it, it's a fast sugar, metabolically. Grains are calorically dense with little nutrition per calorie as compared to healthier, low sugar carbs, colorful, leafy and fibrous foods.

                              1. re: mcf

                                But then you're just talking about how we define "refined".

                            2. re: MandalayVA

                              I wholeheartedly second the advice that you think about what you can eat. What works best for me are normal, delicious, real foods that don't rely heavily on carbs. I'd feel awfully disappointed eating pizza with no crust, but Asian lettuce wraps feel like normal food. So do soup, chili, quiche, chicken satay, etc, etc, etc. I also do better when I focus on the whole grains I actually like. I like quinoa, whole wheat couscous, ak mak crackers, brown rice crackers, or the high fiber wasa flatbreads. I do not usually like whole wheat pasta or bread. I also do best when I save the refined carbs for things I really, really enjoy. Fresh chocolate chip cookies, not crappy vending machine candy. I think shopping frequently is a really good idea. It's really hard to feel deprived while eating beautiful, fresh produce.

                              1. re: MandalayVA

                                Having been forced into giving up most of my beloved carbs due to gluten, I have to enthusiastically cheer this point. It is SO much more joyful to think about what you can eat. Explore the wonderful world of grains. Pop amaranth. Figure out a favorite dry bean to soak. Learn what veggie you love holds 5 days in the fridge (kale comes to mind). Learn some funky new flatbreads, with new grains, so you reduce the proportion of carbs in your diet, and maybe up the protein. How about a dosa? Korea mung bean pancake? Socca/farinata? All of those can be whipped up super fast, as long as you plan ahead (to soak/absorb).

                                Heidi Swanson's 101 cookbooks blog comes to mind.

                                1. re: Vetter


                                  how do you pop amaranth? And then how do you eat it?

                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                      :O POPPED AMARANTH. You have likely changed my life, thank you thank you!

                              2. I have to give a shout-out for white whole wheat flour. It makes super light baked goods, pancakes and waffles, bread, even pasta -- where regular whole wheat flour can make stuff dense or heavy, white whole wheat doesn't. I've also heard of people having good luck with a mix of white whole wheat flour and oat flour.

                                You can definitely approach this challenge just by replacing refined carb products with a whole-grain equivalent. You don't have to eliminate carbs, really. I'm a carb fiend too, so I understand the fear! Do look into some high-quality frozen and canned stuff. Canned tomatoes and beans are a lifesaver, and frozen peas and spinach (plus frozen berries) are great to have on hand to add some fiber to a quick pasta-based dinner.

                                As I've gone along, I've found that I like whole wheat pasta and brown rice in some applications and not in others. I haven't gotten rid of ordinary pasta or white rice altogether, but when I do use them, I make a conscious effort to make sure that whatever accompanies them is heavy on the legumes and veggies. Some sauces and preparations just don't go well with the flavor of brown rice or whole wheat pasta, IME, but others go *beautifully* with them. I use whichever works best for the recipe or technique -- which is another benefit of this whole process, namely that you're cooking outside the box. I just invented a really yummy pasta dish a couple weeks ago because I wanted something that would go well with the whole wheat shells I had in my cupboard.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: LauraGrace

                                  >>Some sauces and preparations just don't go well with the flavor of brown rice or whole wheat pasta, IME, but others go *beautifully* with them.

                                  Please, please, please tell us about the beautiful combinations with whole wheat pasta.

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Here's one I came up with recently. Do use whole wheat pasta even if you normally don't. This is a situation where its rustic texture really shines. If you don't have frozen spinach, feel free to omit it, or you could substitute with arugula or any other green, just saute a little longer. I used pre-shredded domestic parmesan for the cheese, but I could see goat cheese, aged white cheddar, or feta working well too. Would double easily.

                                    1/2 pound of short whole wheat pasta
                                    2 T. olive oil (or more as needed)
                                    1/2 onion, sliced
                                    1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or two cups cooked chickpeas)
                                    2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
                                    1 t. cumin seed
                                    1/2 cup almonds, chopped (or sliced/slivered almonds)
                                    1 cup frozen spinach, thawed
                                    salt and pepper to taste
                                    1/2 cup shredded cheese

                                    Cook pasta according to package directions. Dip out about a cup of the pasta water just before draining.

                                    Meanwhile, saute onion in oil over medium heat until light brown. Add chickpeas and saute well until thoroughly browned all around. Add garlic, cumin seed, and almonds and toast lightly. Add spinach, salt and pepper. Toss cooked pasta with chickpea mixture and stir in a little pasta water. Add cheese and more pasta water if needed to reach a slightly saucy consistency.

                                    The key, IMO, is to play up the texture as an ASSET rather than trying to cover it up or disguise it. So, what flavors do you like with, say, rustic whole-grain bread? Or with wheat berries? Or with quinoa?

                                    1. re: LauraGrace

                                      Ooh! Deborah Madison has something like that in her suppers cookbook, and I haven't made it in ages. Hers is chickpeas, parsley and basil, garlic and parm, I think - and so good!

                                      1. re: LauraGrace

                                        A local restaurant serves scallops with buckwheat noodles - the earthy chew of the noodles really heightens the sweetness of the scallops and makes the whole dish more layered in flavor than plain white noodles ever would.

                                        A really sharp pesto, like one made with lots of garlic including the germ or with arugula instead of or subbed for half of the basil, really tastes better with whole wheat pasta, as do bitter greens like turnip or dandelion - saute with a little chopped up bacon, toss in some hazelnuts or pine nuts, and toss with pasta and maybe goat cheese or parmesan if you like. Delicious!

                                        1. re: thursday

                                          What's the germ? Is that the little green sprout in the middle of the clove?

                                          1. re: jvanderh

                                            Yup. Some people think it's too sharp and get rid of it. I'm too lazy, so I just eat sharp garlic. =)

                                  2. Query the internet about a grain called Quinoa. It is very versatile as an ingredient in side dishes. Wikipedia has valuable information about this grain.