Intact vs. Stripped Carbs: Know the Difference

Before you write off carbohydrates, learn how to tell the good carbohydrates from the bad.


By Dr. Roxanne Sukol


It was Yogi Berra who said that “When you get to the fork in the road, take it!” Well, it’s not just about taking the fork, it’s also about using it to eat. 

Remember that wellness is a pyramid with three major pillars: eating patterns, activity patterns, and rest and relaxation patterns. Focusing now on eating patterns, I’d like to share some thoughts on how to differentiate between nutritious carbohydrates and all the rest. Making change starts with understanding what your choices really look like. 

You’ve probably heard people talk about eating a “low-carb” diet, and maybe you’ve even tried one yourself. When people eat a low-carb diet, they usually cut out bread and bagels, muffins, cookies, cake, rice, potatoes and so on. Some people describe it as cutting out all the white stuff, especially white flour and sugar. While it’s true that all grains are carbohydrates, all carbohydrates are not grains. 

To better tell the difference between nutritious carbs and all the rest, you need to divide carbohydrates into two major categories: intact and stripped. Intact carbs have an intact fiber matrix, which is how they grow. There are four different kinds of intact carbs, and they constitute some of the most nutritious items in our diets: fruits, vegetables, beans, and (whole) grains. 

Now let’s go back, and take a careful look at that bolded list above. You will notice something very important: it’s not simply a list of carbohydrates. In fact, except for the potatoes, it is actually a list of items made from grain. And in these United States that usually means “stripped” grains, which means that the fiber matrix has been completely stripped away. So folks who say they’re eating a low-carb diet aren’t really eating a diet low in carbohydrates. They are actually eating a diet low in stripped grains. 

Stripped carbs constitute an enormous proportion of the standard American diet but, nutritionally, they pale when compared to intact carbs. Stripped carbs include white flour, white rice, sugar, corn starch and corn syrup. Stripped carbs require enrichment and fortification because their mass consumption results, otherwise, in serious nutritional deficiencies. 

So if stripped carbs aren’t nutritious food, then what are they? My friend Mel says to think of them as entertainment. You know, it’s fun to go to the movies, but you wouldn’t want to live in a movie theatre. 

All popular diets cut the stripped carbs from your plate. From Atkins to Zone, plant-based to Paleo, all successful diets cut stripped carbs. No matter what else they recommend, that’s an essential part of why they work. You don’t need to go on a special diet, though. Just start reducing the amount of stripped carbs in your diet. 

Dr. Roxanne B Sukol is committed to teaching you how to tell the difference between real food and manufactured calories! Blogging since 2009 at “Your Health is on Your Plate,” she shares her passion for prevention, translating complex information into readable content that inspires you to take the reins to improve your own health. Dr. Sukol is board certified in Internal Medicine. Her work in preventive medicine is greatly enriched by the 7 years she spent in environmental consulting prior to attending medical school. She keeps a coop with 8 beautiful chickens in her backyard in Northeast Ohio.

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