Dec. 19. 2014
Nutrition Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

The dysfunctions of carbohydrate metabolism, food sources of carbohydrates, types, a diet using and abusing carbohydrates, and storage of carbohydrates.

In the first part Carbohydrates, part I I shared the basics of carbohydrates including what they are, how they’re used in the body, how they’re digested, and how much we need.

Dysfunctions with carbohydrate metabolism

I’m just grazing the surface here on some types of dysfunctions with carbohydrate metabolism, please comment below if you’d like to see a post more in depth about any one area.

  • Pre-diabetes: means your blood sugar is higher than normal or it “should be”, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type II diabetes. When clients present with pre-diabetic lab work, this is the time more than ever I recommend to drastically change lifestyle habits and get healthy once and for all before something more serious results… type II diabetes
  • Diabetes: there are two main forms of diabetes, type I and type II. Type I is the less common diabetes resulting from the hormone insulin not being produced by the body- i.e. energy from sugar and food isn’t being converted like normal. Type II is more widely spread and is the result of high blood sugar coupled with insulin resistance (and also not enough insulin). Insulin resistance is when your pancreas, which makes the hormone insulin, makes extra to make up for the high blood sugar, but over time can’t make enough insulin to keep blood sugars at normal levels.
  • Gestational diabetes: happens in pregnant women after 22 weeks, typically, and this diagnosis doesn’t mean that you had diabetes or that you will have diabetes after you give birth- lifestyle is an incredibly important factor to managing this and all above.

When I used to work clinically, it was part of my daily routine seeing patients who had diabetes or with a pre-diabetic diagnosis and lab work; and this is not something that just presents itself in clinical settings, there are millions of people walking around daily with diabetes and surprisingly some don’t even know it. Nowadays, many of my clients are generally “healthy” yet looking to optimize their health and take it to the highest point both aesthetically and internally. A big switch from counseling individuals on carbohydrate counting. Many of the principles I use with my elite and general clientele comes down to similar concepts- controlling carbohydrate and macronutrient intake to benefit your body internally and make carbohydrate metabolism (amongst other things) more efficient.

How to improve insulin sensitivity

There are several things to do to overall improve insulin sensitivity in the body- think of sensitivity as being a good thing. You want your body to have a normal “sensitivity”, i.e. react well and in tune with your body and the number of carbohydrates it encounters versus being “resistant”. First and foremost, the best way to improve insulin sensitivity is to change the diet including more complex carbohydrates in comparison to refined or processed carbohydrates (think of more vegetables, fruits, and fiber and less white sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods). Another effective way to improve insulin sensitivity is to get up and move! That’s right, commit to an exercise regime of both cardio and weight resistance exercises and do it consistently. Lifestyle factors such as stress management and getting enough sleep are also important to improve insulin sensitivity.

  • Low insulin sensitivity = higher insulin resistance, i.e. your body needs more insulin from your pancreas to keep blood sugars stable. Long term insulin resistance can result in type II diabetes.

There’s a time and place for refined and simple carbohydrates, to be able to control refined and simple carbohydrates and use them strategically is key. Mostly by focusing on how they can be incorporated with your workout and training schedule in mind and the rest of your meal plan. There’s much more I can say and coach my clients on about insulin sensitivity and it’s role in fat loss, but for the basics this is sufficient!

Types of carbohydrates

I discussed the basic building blocks of carbohydrates, mono-, oligo-, and poly- saccarhides; but there are a couple types of carbohydrates that we typically group together. Refined or simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. I typically do not use refined and simple carbohydrates synonymously- “refined” is a type of carbohydrate that has been stripped of it’s nutrition through processing and is also “simple” and digests quickly in the body raising blood sugar; whereas a simple carbohydrate doesn’t always mean it’s been refined. Fruit is an example of a simple carbohydrate due to it’s sugar content and how quickly the body digests it and is far from being refined!

Whole food sources of carbohydrates

*be sure to read more about each whole food carbohydrate in my Whole Pantry page

  • Fruit
    • Lower sugar picks: green apples, cranberries, lemons, limes, raspberries, acai berry, goji berries
    • Higher sugar picks: bananas, papaya, mango, pineapple, dates
  • Dairy (although on NS I don’t use dairy)
    • Milks, yogurts, cheeses, etc.
  • Vegetables
    • All vegetables are carbohydrates! Yet, negligible amounts per serving (sometimes less than 5g)
  • Starchy Vegetables
    • Organic corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, peas, green beans
  • Beans, pulses, legumes
    • Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, split peas, etc.
  • Grains
    • Quinoa, rolled oats, millet, amaranth, wild rice, basmati rice, gluten free breads, etc.

The Nutrition Stripped lifestyle is all about focusing on all forms of carbohydrates, those that are closest to nature like dark leafy greens, fruits, grains, beans, and legumes. There IS such thing as enjoying carbohydrates, using them strategically when your goals change for fat/weight loss, and enjoying a variety of them daily to meet your needs.

I’m asked so often what my thoughts are on some of the following diets I’m mentioning, and in a nutshell those questions can generally be answered with this: “If a diet is something that can’t be maintained, can’t be envisioned in 5 years as part of your life, socially isolates you from others or activities you enjoy, or is harmful to your mental/physical/emotional health.- than this is NOT a lifestyle”. Many diets you hear are either high carbohydrate promoting or low carbohydrate promoting- where is the middle ground? We weren’t designed to completely abstain from carbohydrates, nor were we designed to have so much that we’re eating pounds of fruit at every meal. I simply ask you all this, next time you try to “go low carb” or go “801010” envision yourself in 5 years. If it’s something you can effortlessly and enjoyable maintain, then go for it; if not, reevaluate the reasons why following that dogma in the first place (off soapbox).

Food movements picking on carbohydrates

South Beach Diet, Atkins, Duncan diet, etc.

Promote periods of time with little to no carbohydrates (other than veg) and heavy on the protein and fats followed by introducing a maintenance phase of some sort- successful for many up front, but long-term use of these lower carbohydrate diets most likely result in weight regain. Also, these diets don’t necessarily promote whole foods, they’re very focused on grams of carbohydrates coming from any source- that means artificially sweetened and processed foods as well.


One of the more radical diets I’ve coached clients on recovering from. 80% of the diet is carbohydrates, 10% coming from fat, 10% coming from protein- all vegan, mostly all raw foods only.

As you can see this diet is abundant with fruits and vegetables, but lacks the variety with other foods which translates into nutrients. Advocates of this diet claim they can receive enough and ample amounts of nutrition through this diet, which may be the case, yet one would have to eat extremely large amounts (several pounds at one sitting) of these foods to obtain enough nutrition. The sheer volume and burden on your digestion may cause some people to feel bloated all the time, have loose stools, lack of energy, etc. I’ve had many clients “recover” from this type of diet and all claim they’re so much happier to be eating more varieties of foods.


: generally means consuming less than 20% of your daily calories from carbohydrates- there are SO many variations of low carb dieting, it would be time-consuming to list them all. In a nutshell, low-carb diets limit or eliminate all carbohydrate-rich foods and focus on fats and proteins- the downside is this diet doesn’t have a “rule” or guideline about what foods to consume and most often people find themselves eating “low carb”, “sugar free”,”health” foods which are far from healthy and loaded with processed fats, sugar alcohols, and artificial ingredients. Most lose weight in the short term following these diets, but only to have their weight creep back up when they start consuming more carbohydrates again- yet some enjoy this way of eating as a lifestyle.


Oftentimes means consuming less than 30g carbohydrates total per day. Variations of this diet, but it’s most notably used therapeutically for those suffering from seizures although many fitness and bodybuilding community members utilize this for their “lifestyle”


Many variations of this movement, but carbohydrates are the buzzword and talk around each of them whether it’s because eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy automatically puts one at a lower carbohydrate diet, or because one is following a paleo template that’s also “low carb” meaning limiting the amounts of even fruit and starchy vegetables.

I’m actually a fan of the paleo movement in the broader sense that it’s helped people focus more on the quality of food, where it’s sourced, fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. What I’m not a fan of is recommending everyone to completely eliminate grains and legumes as many people and their digestive systems can thrive by incorporating these foods.

Last year I shared my Guide to Hidden Sugars in hopes that it would shine some light on what and where sugars are lurking in our food system. Keep this list handy to double check the ingredient lists of common foods you enjoy. Understandably this post was a little content heavy, but my hopes was to break down the science a bit more easily for you to understand and apply into your life right away.

I hope you find this guide helpful and please do comment below with more topics you’d like me to cover about carbohydrates in part III.

xx McKel