Carbs often get a bad rap and there is a lot of confusion about good carbs vs bad carbs and what we should be eating, especially when weight loss is the goal.
First, what are carbohydrates and why do we need them? According to registered nutritionist Kirsten Ody (opens in new tab)Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates (carbohydrates) are a type of macronutrient found in a wide variety of foods and beverages.
“We have three main types of carbohydrates: fiber, starch and sugar,” she explains. “Fiber and starches are complex carbohydrates, while sugars are simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and help fuel our nervous system, muscles and organs. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested much faster and send instant bursts of glucose (energy) into the bloodstream, often with little nutritional value.”
While low-carb diets are popular for weight loss, cutting out all carbs can leave you low on energy and can even lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Because of this, it’s important to eat a balanced diet from all five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy) to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. In this article, we talk to Oddy about the differences between good carbs and bad carbs why a balanced diet is important for your health.
What are “good” carbohydrates?
Not all carbohydrates are created equal and some are healthier than others. Carbs in plant foods — complex carbs — are “good” carbs and are often packed with nutrients like bran and fiber that can help improve your digestion and support metabolism.
“To reap the benefits of carbohydrates, opt for nutrient-dense carbohydrates like whole grains and fruits and vegetables. these are complex carbs, or “good” carbs,” says Oddy.
Some examples of good carbohydrates are:
- Andean millet
- whole fruit
- sweet potatoes (preferably with skin)
- nuts and seeds
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread
- Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and peanuts)
What are “bad” carbohydrates?
Simple, or “bad,” carbs (aka refined or processed carbs) are sugars that are quickly broken down and used for energy, Oddy says.
During processing, the whole grain’s bran and germ are removed, which also removes fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, meaning these foods have little nutritional value.
“These types of carbohydrates are often labeled bad, but not all simple carbohydrates are unhealthy. Some whole fruits and milk are made up of simple carbohydrates, but still contain a variety of healthy nutrients,” says Oddy.
Examples of bad carbohydrates are:
- White bread
- Pizza dough
- White pasta
- fruit juice
- Sugary sodas
- Tomato sauce
What is the difference between good and bad carbohydrates?
According to Oddy, “Eating a variety of complex carbohydrates daily is excellent for nourishing the gut microbiome and promoting a healthy digestive system.
“These complex carbohydrates also have a lower impact on blood sugar levels, which is particularly important for people with diabetes or PCO syndrome (PCOS).
Stable blood sugar levels also keep your energy and mood stable throughout the day.
“On the other hand, new studies (opens in new tab) show that people who regularly eat foods with low-quality, simple carbohydrates have an increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” she says.
Eating too little or too much carbohydrates can also be unhealthy and linked to increased mortality, a study published in the shows lancet (opens in new tab) found.
Should You Avoid Simple Carbs?
It’s important to note that not all simple carbohydrates are “unhealthy,” Oddy adds.
“Simple carbohydrates are found in many nutrient-dense foods like fruit and milk. The simple carbohydrates to look out for are processed foods or foods with added sugars. Eating all foods and meals in moderation is normal and healthy — and key to physical and emotional well-being. The keyword here is moderation. At my clinic, we are trying to eliminate food labeling and the idea that certain foods or meals are inherently “bad.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice.