Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

There can be a lot of confusion about carbohydrates. We know we need them to function, but foods like refined sugars are carbohydrates that are dangerous to our health. Let’s uncover what makes a carbohydrate “good” or “bad” and how to make the best choices for maintaining your health.

Are there good carbs and bad carbs?

While the terms “good” and “bad” are relative, there are definitely healthy and unhealthy choices you can make concerning which carbohydrates you eat.

 What are carbohydrates and why are carbs important?

In my previous post, I explained that there are 3 main types of carbohydrates:

1. Starches (complex carbohydrates)

2. Fiber

3. Sugar

Carbohydrates are broken down into smaller chemicals, which are then utilized by our body for energy. To generalize, startches and fibers are “good” or healthy carbohydrates, while refined sugar is a “bad” sugar. However, sugars are also found in fruit, which is generally considered healthy because fruit also contains fiber. See that previous post for a detailed look at how our bodies turn carbs into energy.

What makes a carb good or bad?

There are a few characteristics that make a carbohydrate “good”, however, the characteristics depend on which type of carb we’re talking about.

Good carbs

The two healthy carbs are fiber and starches.

Fibers are all generally healthy. However, too much fiber, like too much of anything, can have negative consequences for your digestive system. It is quite difficult however to eat too much fiber. Fiber helps us feel full, so don’t worry too much about over-consuming fiber. If you want to know how much fiber to eat, check with a medical professional for your specific body.

A good starch provides energy to your body, and stores excess energy as glycogen in your muscles. Good starches are also known as complex carbohydrates, because they are more complicated for your body to break down than simple carbohydrates liked refined sugar. What is similar between complex and simple carbohydrates is that if the carb is not consumed quickly after eating, the body will store the excess energy.

If all of the energy you consume from carbs cannot be immediately used by your body, your body will store the excess as a chemical called glycogen, which remains in your muscles.

Because complex carbs, or good starches, take much longer for the body to break down, complex carbs are not stored as excess energy as quickly simple carbs.

 

Bad carbs

Simple carbs like refined sugar spike up blood levels quickly because they do not take the body long to break down.

 

How to tell the difference

There is an easy way to tell whether a carb is good or bad- and that is by using the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a number value given to foods to indicate how quickly the food will raise your blood sugar.

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index is a standard way to tell good carbs from bad carbs. The glycemic index goes up to 100, where a value of 100 is equivalent to refined sugar (eg. glucose). Typically, good carbohydrates are those with a glycemic index of 55 or less. A medium glycemic index value is from 56-69.  A bad carb has a glycemic index of 70 or higher.

If you are trying to avoid refined sugars, definitely steer clear or foods with a glycemic index above 70 and avoid foods with a glycemic index value of 56-69.

Eat the recommended amount of carbohydrates for your body and make sure that the glycemic index is 55 or less.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs Chart

Since the main difference between healthy and unhealthy carbs are their abilities to either slowly or quickly increase blood sugar levels, this chart is organized by glycemic index.

Glycemic index     Range               Example carbohydrates

Low                      55 or less          beans, fruits, nuts, oats, barley, grains

Medium               56-69                dried fruit, banana, sweet potato

High                     70 or higher     refined sugars, candy bars, cake, white bread

You should always balance your carbohydrates with proteins and healthy fats in any meal. Some meal delivery kits can give you a convienet way to make a healthy, balanced meal.

Conclusion

 

There are “good” and “bad” carbs in the sense that there are healthy and unhealthy carbs. Healthy carbs have a low glycemic index (meaning that they do not raise your blood sugar quickly), while unhealthy carbs have a high glycemic index (meaning that they do raise your blood sugar quickly).

Do you have your own good carb vs. bad carb list? Add to the discussion below!

-Ava

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