Carbohydrate-rich foods have gotten a bad rap for way too long.
When we eat starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods (such as potato, bread and pasta), they break down to glucose (a sugar) which (under normal metabolic conditions) is our body's primary fuel. We then store the glucose in the form on glycogen in our muscles and liver, which we draw from in the hours following the meal, to keep our blood sugar levels stable. While many people fear carbohydrate-rich foods will cause weight gain, from a metabolic perspective, glucose doesn’t 'turn to fat' except under conditions of extremely high consumption (1).
If you have excess weight that you'd like to lose, load up your plate with lots of veggies and legumes, and add a small portion of good quality, carbohydrate-rich foods to match your energy needs. For a woman who is relatively sedentary (e.g. sitting down at work all day), a good visual guide is a portion roughly the size of a fist (which would be 1 medium potato, or 1/2 cup cooked grains).
How to choose good quality carbohydrate-rich foods:
1: Choose foods which have been subjected to little or no processing:
Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, freekah, farro, millet, amaranth, steel-cut oats, barley, buckwheat
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes
Breads such as pumpernickel (made from whole rye grains) and sprouted bread (made from sprouted whole grains)
The following are a little more processed but are still excellent choices:
Whole grain breads
Whole grain pasta
The not-so-good choices*:
White rice, bread and pasta - the outer bran and germ layer has been removed, so you miss out on nutrients such as vitamin E, B vitamins, minerals (such as zinc, iron and magnesium) and dietary fibre
Processed breakfast cereals such as Special K
Rice cakes and rice crackers
*I've listed these as 'not-so-good', rather than 'bad' as sometimes life gets in the way of making choices that support ‘optimal' nutrition, and that's okay! If you're out at a nice restaurant and there aren't any healthy options, just do the best you can in that situation. Food is about so much more than the physical act of eating - I would argue that every now and again, good conversation with family and friends is more important and nourishing than what's on your plate.
1. Acheson KJ, Schutz Y, Bessard T, Anantharaman K, Flatt JP, Jéquier E. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Aug 1;48(2):240–7.