The Facts About Carbohydrates Good Carbs and Bad Carbs

Not all carbs are bad for you. Learning the difference between bad carbohydrates and good carbs is important for a healthy diet.
Food & Drink

Carbohydrates or carbs for short have become the villain of our diets. Diet authors and diet marketers have declared the carb as bad for our diets, bad for our health and the cause for the rise in obesity, diabetes and a host of other illnesses.

You can read how someone became overweight from eating carbs. Or a health study’s conclusion was that participants gained weight while on a high carbohydrate diet compared to a low carbohydrate diet. Many times, what the diet marketers don’t tell you is what type of carbs these people were eating. It usually turns out that yes; they were eating a lot of carbs, the bad carbs like cookies, cakes, donuts, white bread and the rest of the bad carbs. Of course someone eating those will gain weight, not to mention sugar is also a carbohydrate. In too many studies, the participants didn’t even know what kind of carbs they were eating, whole grain, white flour, cracked flour or exactly what kind. Their conclusion, all carbs are bad and cause weight gain.

Why We Need Carbohydrates

The different types of carbohydrates are simple carbs (sugars) and complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber). Both carbohydrates turn into glucose in our body and that is what the body uses as fuel, energy and replenishing the muscles.

We need to eat three groups of foods for good health. These are fats, protein and carbohydrates. Some diet marketers try to make us believe that we shouldn’t eat any or hardly any carbohydrates, but that wouldn’t be healthy. Our body needs carbohydrates for the following important functions:

· Carbs are broken down and used for energy since it is the body’s main source of fuel.

· Every cell in our body uses carbohydrates for energy and the health of the cells.

· The organs, muscles and the central nervous system need carbs to function properly. The heart also needs carbohydrates for healthy functioning. Remember, the heart is also a muscle.

· The fibers in carbohydrates are important for a healthy digestive system.

It is in carbs that you will find both kinds of fiber (soluble and insoluble), vitamins, minerals and many phytochemicals you cannot get from protein or fats.

The Bad Carbs

Bad carbs are usually thought of as the simple carbs, like sugar, soda pop and fruit juices. Bad carbs also include the over processed highly refined carbohydrates like white flour, white bread, white rice, cookies, cakes, donuts and anything else made with these refined products. There are really no bad carbs in nature; the bad carbs are man-made. In nature, carbohydrates have plenty of fiber and nutrients; it is only after the processing that takes the fiber and nutrients out that causes carbohydrates to become bad carbs.

When you see labels that say enriched bread; that means they have put some of the vitamins and nutrients back into the bread after they had already been processed out. These added vitamins are usually man-made substitutes and not as good as the vitamins and minerals that were originally in the grain, and enriched certainly doesn’t mean that all of the nutrients were added back in.

How Bad Carbs Affect Our Health

When you eat refined carbohydrates or simple carbs, they are digested rapidly into glucose, causing the pancreas to make insulin. Insulin tries to put the glucose into the liver, muscles and cells. If too much glucose is put into the system too quickly, the pancreas continues to put out more and more insulin. Over time this can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to type II diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.

With continual eating of the highly refined bad carbs, the glucose levels stay high. Insulin cannot work fast enough, the liver in a sense runs out of storage room and the rest of the unused glucose is converted to and stored as fat. Usually belly fat.

This rapid digestion into glucose can give a quick rise in energy but dissipates quickly, leaving you hungry and tired. A simple carb can be good in certain athletic competitions, but in everyday life, the quick burst of energy means a quick return to hunger and worn out feeling, which just makes you eat more, sooner, without ever using up that quick energy. So it is stored as fat.

Good Carbs

The more natural or unprocessed a carbohydrate is, the more of a good carb it is. A list of good carbs would be vegetables, long grain and brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, whole grain pasta, fruit, white and sweet potatoes.

The good carbohydrates do not flood our body with high amounts of glucose all at once, and the fiber that is naturally in good carbs, slows down the digestion of carbohydrates so our body isn’t overwhelmed trying to make insulin.

Eating all kinds of vegetables is a great way to get the good carbs and their nutrients. As a consumer, it is hard to know if we are buying and eating whole grains or some kind of refined grain with misleading words in the ingredients. The first ingredient should say whole wheat, whole oats or some other whole grain, if it doesn’t, then it most likely is not whole grain.

You can’t really go by the fiber count, since a product that is highly refined flour could have fiber added. But that wouldn’t be the natural kind of fiber that was already there and taken out by the refining process.


One reason for the rise in obesity is that the average diet has become so full of the processed and refined bad carbs. Not the good carbs. Simple carbs like sugar, high corn fructose syrup soda pops and fruit juices along with the highly refined breads and buns, rice and pasta can add pounds of fat to your body each year.

There are far more studies that show a diet high in good carbohydrates are healthy for us than they are bad for us [1]. By limiting the amount of good carbs in your diet, you are depriving yourself of healthy minerals, phytochemicals and fiber that you cannot get from the other food groups. Just remember to eat the whole unprocessed and unrefined good carbohydrates.

© 2010 Sam Montana

Resources and related articles

[1] Worlds Healthiest Foods Carbohydrate Studies

Nutrition Action Report

Harvard School of Public Health

Why Belly Fat is Dangerous to Your Health

Healthy Food and Nutrition Articles


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