Never Miss a Beat!
Sign up for our health and wellness newsletter
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
What Are Carbs?
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are nutrients in your food that are converted into sugar after you digest them. They give your body energy.
Although you need some carbs to maintain your energy level, too many can cause weight gain and harm your health. Carbs generally are found in grains, milk and yogurt, vegetables, fruits, and sweets.
Carbs can be simple or complex. Simple carbs are digested quickly and result in a spike in blood sugar levels, and may leave you feeling hungry sooner. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are digested much more slowly and result in a slow release of glucose, not spiking blood sugar levels. They can make you feel full longer.
Which carbs are the healthiest?
The best choices are those that aren’t processed. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are considered good carbs because they contain vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. In contrast, refined — or processed — carbs like white pasta, sugary drinks, and pastries have little or no nutritional value and should be consumed in moderation or not at all.
What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs?
Carbohydrates can be separated as simple or complex, or bad and good carbs. Bad or simple carbs include highly processed foods like enriched or refined pasta or dough, white bread, white rice, or pastries. These kinds of carbs are digested quickly and don’t make you feel as full, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.
Good or complex carbohydrates contain nutritional layers and fiber that are full of essential vitamins and minerals. They should make up roughly 50% to 65% of your daily intake.
Carbohydrates are further separated by the kinds of molecules that make them. The most common and simplest is the monosaccharides, which includes glucose and fructose. The next is disaccharides, which come from the bond of lactose and sucrose. Last, and most complex, is the polysaccharide, which consists of two monosaccharides bonded together like fiber and starch.
A List of Healthy Carbs
Some who have tried to lose weight have adopted a ketogenic diet, which limits carbs and increases fat intake. While this diet can work for some people, it’s not always sustainable and can be too low in fiber.
It’s best to get the carbs you need from foods that have other health properties. Some carbohydrate-rich foods like beans, lentils, and many fruits and vegetables also are high in fiber. Others are high in vitamins or minerals. Sweet potatoes contain vitamins A and C as well as fiber and potassium. Milk and yogurt are high in calcium.
What are healthy carbs?
Healthy carbs have added nutritional value, not just empty calories. Foods containing healthy carbs that are part of a healthy diet include:
If you’re trying to lose weight, use butter sparingly on popcorn and sweet potatoes. Instead of adding sugar to your oatmeal, add fresh berries for sweetness. And although brown rice and whole wheat pasta are healthier choices, you should still practice portion control when eating them.
What are unhealthy carbs?
Bad carbs are any carbohydrates that have had their natural nutrients stripped away for flavor or processing ease. It is advised to limit or eliminate bad carbs, such as:
- White rice.
- Enriched pasta.
- Sweetened yogurt.
- Breakfast cereals.
- Refined sugars.
- Artificially sweetened beverages.
- Sweetened nut butters.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.