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Ysabel Montemayor, RD

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates are sugars that your body can break down easily. Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to process, preventing spikes in blood sugar.
good carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are mainly sugars and starches that our bodies use as energy.

We’ve all heard the saying “carbs are the enemy” or you shouldn’t be eating carbs because you will gain weight. But you must be thinking, “What does that really mean?” Are all carbohydrates really that bad?

The simple answer is no, they are not created equally. There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple.

Let’s learn the difference between the two of them.

Table of Contents
What Are Complex Carbs?
What Are Simple Carbs?
Healthy Food High in Carbs
Things to Keep in Mind When Grocery Shopping

What Are Complex Carbs?

Robert Hurd, MD, Professor of Endocrinology and HealthCare Ethics at Xavier University says that complex carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules that are strung together by complex chains.

Complex carbs are often found in their whole natural state with their already existing fiber. And they are considered to be the “healthy carbs” that your body can use for energy.

According to Harvard Health, complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to process. Therefore, this doesn’t have an immediate impact on blood sugar levels and causes it to go up at a slower rate.

Complex carbohydrates can help improve your metabolic health and lower the risks for diseases.

Dr. Hurd also suggests that we should consume more complex carbs than simple carbs because they provide our body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Examples of Complex Carbohydrates

The following food items are considered to be healthy complex carbohydrates that you should incorporate into your daily diet.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Whole Grains

What Are Simple Carbs?

Simple carbohydrates are sugars that your body can break down easily. They can be found naturally in fruits and milk. Many processed foods and sweetened beverages also contain simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbs are low in nutritional value and fiber, and are often considered to be empty calories. They may be converted into fat later on if not used up for energy.

Harvard Health says that simple carbohydrates are quickly used by the body for energy because of their simple chemical structure. This is why many athletes eat simple carbs after a workout.

Simple carbohydrates raise the blood glucose levels quickly, which may cause you to crash and leave you craving even more high-carb foods.

Eating too much of this type of carbohydrate is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

Examples of Simple Carbohydrates

The following food items are considered to be simple carbohydrates that are made of refined sugar, will spike your blood levels, and are considered empty calories with minimal nutritional value.

  • Candy
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas or juices
  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • White rice
  • Pastries

Healthy Food High in Carbs

As we mentioned already, you are going to want to up your intake of complex carbohydrates since they are better for you than simple carbohydrates.

Think of complex carbohydrates as colored carbs compared to simple carbohydrates. For example, instead of having white rice, you will have brown rice or wild rice.

Here are some examples of foods high in complex carbohydrates that you can incorporate into your daily diet to give you the energy you need.

  • Pomegranate: has a good amount of vitamin K (helps clot blood), vitamin C (enhance iron absorption), and potassium (regulates your heart function and other essential bodily functions).
  • Black beans: are rich in fiber (will help you your digestive tract be regular) and iron (helps create the energy your body needs).
  • Broccoli: is a high-fiber and a low-calorie vegetable with vitamin C.
  • Onions: are sodium, fat and cholesterol free, which is a great way to enhance flavor in your meals.
  • Green Peas: are a good source of vitamin A (maintain vision), vitamin C, and are a good source of fiber.

Always Choose The Healthier Carb Option

Before you purchase or eat any other food item, be sure to follow the suggestions in this list for healthy carb consumption.

  • Bread and Cereal: Select bran cereals and whole wheat bread. These are great breakfast options.
  • Pasta and Rice: Select whole wheat spaghetti, quinoa, wild rice, or spaghetti squash. These carbs options will help you stay fuller longer.
  • Beverages: Drink unsweetened almond, coconut milk, or sparkling water to help you stay hydrated and avoid added sugar.
  • Fruits: Eat berries, kiwis, apples, and oranges so your body can get the extra benefit of their vitamins and minerals.
  • Vegetables: Eat spinach, kale, garlic, tomatoes, and sweet potato. Like fruits eat your vegetables, so your body can get the extra benefit of their vitamins and minerals too.
  • Snacks: Snack on nuts such as cashews and almonds. They help you stay full in between meals and keep your metabolism up.

Things to Keep in Mind When Grocery Shopping

The next time that you are at the grocery store keep the following things in mind.

  1. Read the label to see if there is any added sugar.
  2. Avoid any ingredients that end with “-ose” such as high fructose corn syrup.
  3. Try to have 40% of your total caloric intake come from complex carbohydrates.
  4. Check the sugar content of low-fat and fat-free foods as they often contain a lot of calories from sugar.

Keep the good vs bad carbohydrates in mind when you are out grocery shopping and choose your carbs wisely.

Now that you know the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates, remember that carbs don’t always have to be the enemy!

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