How To Tell Good Carbs from Bad Carbs


“Carbohydrate” is NOT a dirty word. The recent diet fads might lead you to believe this, but healthy facts don’t lie. There are ways that you can eat carbohydrates and still eat healthily.

There are a lot of people who want to blame carbohydrates for their weight problems, including obesity. But nutritionists and dieticians are finding out this isn’t always true.

Being overweight can make certain aspects of life harder, especially if you aren’t healthy. Did you know life insurance rates for overweight people can be higher?

It is possible to maintain healthy levels and enjoy certain carbohydrates at the same time.

As a result, my dear Watson, we must investigate!

Carbohydrate Detective Work

To begin your investigation, you need to have a general idea of what a carbohydrate really is.

Carbohydrates are molecules. Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon make up these molecules. They are also your body’s main energy source.

There are several different kinds of carbohydrates:

1. Simple: Simple carbohydrates have no real nutritional values. Does the term “empty calories” ring a bell? Refined is another term for them.

2. Complex: The purest form of carbohydrate. These are the ones that are healthy and have not been modified from their original state.

3. Sugars: These are sweet to taste and considered simple carbohydrates. This includes glucose, galactose, fructose, and sucrose.

Sugars can also cause an instant increase in blood sugar levels, obviously. This sparks energy, but prepare for a crash when the blood sugar levels bottom out.

Starches: These are complex glucose molecules that breakdown in the digestive system.

The complex carbohydrate fuels the body’s energy supply after it digests. This helps keep healthy blood sugar levels consistent.

Fiber: Not really simple and not really complex, but fiber does feed the friendly bacteria that help produce fatty acids for cellular energy.

Munching on Macronutrients

Ever hear your CrossFit-going co-workers talking about getting in their “macros?” They’re talking about macronutrients, and carbs are definitely one of them.

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, and you’ve probably heard of the two others: proteins and fats.

Macronutrients are essential to the body.

Macronutrients are the three main types of nutrients that we eat. In other words, everything we are eating is either a fat, a protein, or a carbohydrate.

These nutrients are required in large amounts to sustain life. That is why they have the preface “macro”. Just like any other nutrient, you have to use it within moderation.

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Clues You Are Eating A Good Carb

Just like any investigation, clues can lead you to the truth about your carbohydrates. There are certain clues that you can look for to know if you are making a good choice or not.

Good Carb Clue #1

Fresh fruits and vegetables are always an example of good carbohydrates. The fresher; the better. This does not include canned items. Canned items often use salty preservatives and added sugars, which are not healthy.

Using whole fruits and vegetables in your diet can help curb cravings and satisfy a sweet tooth.

Good Carb Clue #2

Foods that fall into the category of legumes, nuts, and seeds are good carbohydrate choices.

Legumes like lentils, peas, and kidney beans are considered a good type of carbohydrate. Their compositions are good for fueling the body.

Nuts and seeds make good snack choices. Any tree nut (macadamia, cashew, walnut, etc.) are full of good fats. Seeds like chia, pumpkin, and sunflower, are a popular addition to salads or just to munch on. Choosing these over salty potato chip options are a better carbohydrate choice.

Good Carb Choice #3

The last group of good carbohydrate choices is whole grains and tubers. Sure, “tubers” sounds funny, but they classify your potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Whole grains are pure oats, quinoa, and brown rice. They have to be classified as “whole” to count in this category. This means that they are unrefined and unprocessed.

Low-Carb Lifestyle

If you are trying to live a low-carb lifestyle, the highest carbohydrate counts reside in legumes, whole grains, and tubers. While it is possible to completely eliminate carbs from a diet, it isn’t fully recommended. Carbohydrates help create energy for the body.

It’s also not always logical to completely eliminate carbs from your diet. Your body benefits from eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which it would not get if all carbs were eliminated.

Clues of a Not-So-Good Carb

Some of the bad carbohydrate clues listed below may be no-brainers, but some may come as a complete shock. It’s important to look at your labels and familiarize yourself with the carbohydrate counts.

Bad Carb Clue #1

Chances are, if you are looking at something that is covered in icing and sprinkles, it’s not a good carb.

It’s a very…very…bad carb.

Things like cakes, cupcakes, donuts, ice creams, chocolates, and candies are high in sugar and refined contents. When items are refined, they are basically stripped of their nutritional values.

Bad Carb Clue #2

One thing that you may not think about is fruit juices. Even though whole fruits are considered a good carb, bottled juices are not.

Manufacturers add a lot of sugar content to fruit juices. So unless you are freshly squeezing your own juice each morning, you probably should use it in moderation.

Prebottled fruit juices fall into the same category as sugary drinks. These are your soda pops, energy drinks, and vitamin waters. A diet Coke every now and then is fine, but these are some of the most unhealthy things you can put inside your body.

Bad Carb Clue #3

The last group of bad carbohydrates Is the most consumed. Things like french fries, potato chips, and white bread are staples in American diets.

White bread is comprised of refined grains. When a grain is refined, it is stripped of everything good about it. This makes the carbohydrate content higher as well since the refined bread lacks fiber. These are often called “empty carbs.” They have no nutritional value.

French fries and potato chips fall into the same category. Whole potatoes are healthy–deep-fried ones, not so much.

Carbohydrate Conclusions

In one sense, the decision about carbohydrates is in the eye of the beholder. The only thing a guide can do is advise you what is good and what is bad for you. Trying to eat healthier doesn’t mean that you have to cut out all of the things that you love.

If you love to eat donuts, eat them. But eat one, not half a dozen in one sitting.

If you love to eat potato chips, follow the serving size on the bag.

Use tools to keep track of your good versus bad carbohydrate consumption.

In the end, if you love your carbs (we all do if we’re being honest), identify which team they belong to.

The key to successful dieting is always “moderation, moderation, moderation!”

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