Authors as Published

Stephanie K. Goodwin, Family Nutrition Program Graduate Assistant

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. They give us energy to use or to be stored to use later. Most carbohydrate foods also have health-giving vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates can be found
in three different food groups:

  1. Starch/bread/grain group
  2. Fruit group
  3. Dairy group

Try to include one serving of a carbohydrate from each of these groups at each meal:

Starch/Bread/Grain Group:

1 slice bread, 1/3 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup corn

Fruit Group:

1 small fresh fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit [raisins, prunes, apricots], 1/2 cup 100% juice

Dairy Group:

1 cup lowfat milk, 2/3 cup fruit-flavored lowfat yogurt sweetened with non-nutritive sweetener

Which vegetables count as a carbohydrate choice?

There are two main types of vegetables: starchy and non-starchy.  

Starchy Vegetables include:

  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Sweet potato
  • Winter squash
  • Lima beans

The starchy vegetables are considered carbohydrate choices. Because they have more carbohydrates in them, they belong in the starch/bread/grain group. Starchy vegetables are still a good choice to include in your meal plan. Just like non-starchy vegetables, these vegetables provide the body with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Pick bright colored starchy vegetables as your carbohydrate choice for the starch/bread/grain group!

Non-Starchy Vegetables include:

  • Salad greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Green beans
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers

When picking which vegetable to eat, remember that fresh and frozen vegetables are your best choices. If using canned vegetables, pick the ones that say “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. If you cannot find canned vegetables with lower sodium content, drain the vegetables and rinse them with water. This will help to lower the sodium that is on the vegetables.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

What are added sugars?

Sugars and syrups that are added to food during processing or home preparation are added sugars.  

Examples of added sugars:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Sugar
  • Honey

Examples of foods that contain added sugars:

  • Regular soft drinks
  • Candies
  • Cakes, cookies, pies
  • Fruit drinks (Fruitades and fruit punch)
  • Ice cream, sweetened yogurt and sweetened milk
  • Other grains (cinnamon toast, sweet rolls and honey-nut waffles)

Reduce the amount of added sugars by:

Eating more nutrient-dense foods (more nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin A and fiber) that have natural sugars, like:

Whole fruit (fresh, frozen, canned and dried):

  • Cantaloupe
  • Orange
  • Apple  
  • Blueberries
  • Pear
  • Raspberries
  • Pineapple
  • Mango

Choose carbohydrates that are packed with nutrients, and those that are high in fiber such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. Carbohydrates such as whole grains and beans are digested slowly and are used by the body over a steady period time.

Look below to see which carbohydrates you should choose. These carbohydrates should be included as part of a high-quality diet. Choosing healthy carbohydrates may provide the nutrients to prevent sickness, decrease recovery time from illness, and improve overall quality of life.

Try these carbohydrate choices:

  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • 1 6-inch corn or whole wheat tortilla
  • 1/2 cup “old fashioned” oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat pasta
  • 1/3 cup brown rice
  • 1/3 cup cooked black beans or peas
  • 3 cups popped popcorn

Instead of these carbohydrate choices:

  • 1 slice white bread
  • 1 6-inch white flour tortilla
  • 1/2 cup instant flavored oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup of durum wheat (white) pasta
  • 1/3 cup white rice
  • 1/3 cup baked beans with molasses and bacon
  • 3 cups potato chips

Reviewer: Kathy Hosig

Sources: American Diabetes Association.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension. 2002. Diabetes, carbohydrates and you: Paying attention to carbohydrates.

American Diabetes Association, “Non-starchy Vegetables”

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture

This publication was partially funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides nutrition assistance to people with low incomes. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more, contact your local county or city Department of Social Services (phone listed under city/county government).  For help finding a local number, call toll-free: 1-800-552-3431 (M-F 8:15-5:00, except holidays).  By calling your local DSS office, you can get other useful information about services.  

In accordance with Federal law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religious creed, age, disability, or political beliefs.

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call, toll free, (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

This publication was partially funded by the Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program, USDA, CSREES.

Reviewed by: Eleanor Schlenker, RD, professor and Extension specialist, Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Publication Date

August 5, 2011