We often hear that we need to eat “good carbs” and avoid the “bad carbs.” What does that all mean? Are we supposed to even eat “carbs”?
Types of Carbs
There are 3 main types of carbohydrates. They are starches, sugars and fiber. Yes sugars and fiber are types of carbs! When you look at an ingredient label, you will typically see “Sugars” and “Dietary Fiber” below the “Total Carbohydrate” section. However you will notice that these two do not add up to the total. That is because starch is not listed on food labels. So, the missing amount is basically starch.
Simple Carbs and Complex Carbs
Sugars are also referred to as simple carbs, and starches and fiber are also referred to as complex carbs. That is because on a chemical level, sugars are made up of a single sugar molecule or double-chained sugar molecules (they are simple). Starches and fiber are made up of three or more linked sugar molecules (they are complex).
Sugars include those found naturally in foods such as sugars in fruits and dairy, as well as processed sugars such as table sugar, brown sugar and corn syrup.
What Foods Contain Carbs?
Carbohydrates are found in pretty much every food item, except water, unprocessed fish & meats and oils. They are in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, dairy and all forms of sugar.
So, there is no way of eliminating carbs from our diets, but there is surely a way to consume more of the healthy carbs like fiber and reduce the often problematic carbs such as sugars and starches.
Fiber actually does not get digested and simply passes through your body. However it performs many important and health-promoting functions such as carrying out waste, reducing bad cholesterol and helping with blood sugar levels. It also gives you a feeling of fullness, which is helpful for food portion control.
So What Makes a Carbohydrate Source Good?
Following are qualities of a good carbohydrate food:
- Provides lots of nutrients
- Contains fiber
- Does not spike up your blood sugar
What kind of food meets the above qualities? By far, low-starch vegetables are the best source of good carbohydrates, as they meet all the above criteria. They are particularly rich in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Low-sugar fruits rank next given their nutrients and fiber content.
Next we probably can rank high-starch vegetables and high-sugar fruits since they are natural, whole foods that still provide rich nutrients to your body. However they are usually calorie-rich and can increase your blood sugar levels if over-consumed, leading to fat storage. We can also add beans and legumes, which although high in calories and contain a lot of starch, have nutrients and tons of fiber.
Then we have whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole oats and whole spelt which contain a lot of starch but again still contain nutrients. They are also usually high in calories and may elevate your insulin levels if over-consumed. Grains in general are associated with various illnesses, so it is recommended that you limit grains.
Then we have the processed whole-grain products, such as whole wheat bread or whole grain pasta, that are processed but still use whole grains as their ingredient, which contain more nutrients than refined grains.
Lastly, we have the worst forms of carbohydrate which are refined grain and sugar products. These foods typically contain little nutritional value and fill your body with “empty” calories. Often containing little to no fiber, they spike up your blood sugar when consumed, and often cause a sugar crash and hunger a few hours later.
Refined grain and sugar products include white rice, white pasta, white bread, junk foods, fast foods, sweets and syrups. However they are not all the same, and the more processed they are and the more sugar they contain, the worse they become. For example, a Snickers bar is a lot worse than white rice.
The Good, Ok and Bad
Here is a list of the good, ok and bad carbs. For your health and weight loss, stick to the good, enjoy the ok in moderation, and try to avoid the bad!
Beans and legumes
Processed whole grain products
Other highly processed foods