Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Understanding Carbohydrates
Low-carb diets like South Beach and Atkins have given carbohydrates a bad reputation. But while there are certain carbs you should avoid, some carbohydrates are beneficial and necessary for the body when eaten in moderation. Here’s a breakdown of “good” carbs and “bad” carbs, and what you need to know about eating carbohydrates.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are compounds found in healthy foods like beans and apples, or unhealthy sources like white bread and sodas. Your body converts most carbs into glucose, which is used to create energy. Your body can use carbs immediately or store them in the liver and muscles to use later. Main sources of carbohydrates include:
- Breads, cereals and other grains
- Milk and milk products
- Foods with added sugars (for example, sweets and drinks)
What Are “Good” Carbs?
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Or, to use clearer terms, starches and dietary fiber. Starches are called simple, or “bad,” carbohydrates because the body easily converts them into sugar (glucose). Food sources of starches include certain vegetables (potatoes, dry beans, peas, corn) and foods made with refined (white) flour, including breads, cereals and other processed foods. The term complex, or “good,” carbs refers to high-carbohydrate foods that contain dietary fiber, whole grains and no added sugar. Fiber is not broken down into glucose. It aids digestion, supports heart health and provides other benefits to the body. Food sources of fiber include vegetables, fruits, seeds and whole grains. It’s always best to opt for whole foods and whole grains to make sure you’re getting mostly good carbs in your diet.
What Are “Bad” Carbs?
“Bad” carbs, or “simple” carbs, are found in processed foods and include added sugars and naturally occurring sugars (such as those found in fruits and vegetables). This can be confusing because fruits and vegetables are good for you, and yet they contain simple carbs. But what matters is the ratio of complex to simple carbs. If you press the juice out of an apple, for example, what comes out is pure fructose. But, if you eat a whole apple, it contains enough fiber to offset the effect of the fructose. That’s just one reason why eating whole foods is one of the best ways to support total wellness. You need energy to do every task: getting out of bed in the morning, eating lunch, going on a run, and other activities throughout the day. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy in the body. By focusing on eating more complex carbs and limiting simple carbs, you provide your body with the right balance of fiber, starch and sugar, while also increasing your nutrient intake. For more on eating a balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates, read, “6 Reasons to Eat Mediterranean.”
What are you favorite foods that are rich in “good” carbs?