Healthy Habits Series: Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs. What’s The Deal?

Whole Grains Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

As always, I am going to be honest with you. I love carbs! I tried cutting way back once and it was just not sustainable for me. That is not to say it is not sustainable for you.

By no means am I dissing low carb people. If that is for you, more power to you. I have a lot of family that do it.

The reason for this post is because there are many people out there that just don’t understand carbohydrates.

They see them simply as good or bad and that is not the case.

So I am going to clear up the confusion.

I am going to walk you through simplifying carbs so you understand what carbs do for you and the difference between good carbs vs bad carbs. I will also go through some carb tips to help you determine what is best for you.

What is a Carbohydrate

Chemical Makeup of Carbs

Carbohydrates are actually complex and there are different types of them. Think disaccharides and polysaccharides.

I’m not going to get into all of that here. For our purposes here, the technical information, like the chemical makeup, is not important.

I want to keep this as simple as possible so you easily understand carbs and remember what we are talking about.

Carbs are mainly the sugars and starches found in many foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (or macros), along with protein and fats. These are what our bodies use as a main source of energy.

Macronutrients are nutrients that our bodies need in large quantities.

At this point, you might be questioning why if we need them in large amounts, do so many people cut way back or even cut them out.

We will explore this in just a moment.

What Carbs Provide For Your Body

Woman Running Up The Stairs = Carbs Create Energy

First, you should get a good understanding of what carbs do for your body.

These sugars and starches from carbs are broken down by your body and turned into glucose.

This is important because your brain uses glucose. It cannot easily use protein or fats for its energy needs.

When you cut back on carbs, you may experience less energy because this is your bodies first source it goes to for energy.

Fiber is also a carbohydrate and as you know, fiber is important for digestions.

It also keeps you keeling fuller for longer.

Why Do People Cut Out Carbs

Scale With Tape Measure

There are a couple of reasons that people cut down on carbs.

Those with medical conditions, such as diabetics, need to control their carbohydrates because of the sugars they contain.

Many who want to lose weight, also drop their carbohydrates because high carb food typically contain more calories.

So, cutting down on the carbs also cuts down on the calories eaten.

This has become extremely popular with diets such as Keto.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

Before you decide to cut carbs out or even to keep carbohydrates in your diet, you should know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs.

I feel like a lot of people group all carbohydrates as the same. This drives me crazy because there are so many healthy carbs that I feel are important for a well-balanced diet.

Instead, you should think of carbs as whole foods or refined foods. To give you an idea of what this looks like, let’s look at each group of carbohydrates.

Whole Carbs

Potatoes Next To A Pot = Whole Carbs

Vegetables. This includes all vegetables and it is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day. Remember, eat all different colors.

Whole fruits. This includes, apples, bananas, strawberries, etc. Again, eat a bunch of different colored fruits.

Legumes. This group contains lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.

Nuts. Think almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.

Seeds. I have to admit I typically don’t eat many seeds, but recently I have been getting more in my diet since becoming an Epicure Consultant. Seeds consist of chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Whole grains. Choose grains that are truly whole, such as pure oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc. Keep in mind portion size and you will be just fine.

Tubers. This is the group that contains potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Refined Carbs

Donut = Refined Carbs

Sugary drinks. This includes sodas, fruit juices with added sugar, and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

White bread. This is considered a refined carbohydrate because they are low in essential nutrients and aren’t good for your metabolic health. This applies to most commercially available breads. It’s always a good idea to check the nutrition label.

Pastries, cookies and cakes. I’m a sucker for cookies or a donut on occasion. Unfortunately, these foods tend to be very high in sugar and refined wheat, which means it is best to not overindulge.

Ice cream. Most types of ice cream are very high in sugar. The good news is, there are some exceptions. With low carb diets being all the rage, many companies are making healthier options.

Candies and chocolates. If you’re going to eat chocolate, choose quality dark chocolate. You want chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher. And even then you want to only eat it in moderation.

French fries and potato chips. We talked about tubers in the whole foods section. Here you have foods made of tubers but for a healthy diet,  they just don’t provide the nutritional benefits.

Back To Healthy Carbs vs Refined Carbs

Healthy carbohydrates are broken down more slowly by the body. This can help control insulin response, as well as energy levels and body composition.

On the other hand, refined carbohydrates are digested fast. This can cause a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels.

I want you to just take a moment and think about the last time you had refined carbohydrates. Maybe you had a donut for breakfast. Ask yourself, how did you feel afterwards?

If you are like most people, you feel sluggish afterwards and drained of energy. That isn’t the case with whole carbs.

There have been many studies that have shown that refined carbs are associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Looking at the list of refined carbohydrates above, it is pretty easy to see why there is a connection.

Carbs in Food: How Many Carbs In A Day

Bowl With Strawberries and Blueberries

I want to take a quick moment to go over the recommended amount of carbohydrates you need in a day.

For a 2,000 calorie diet, the recommended amount of carbs in a day is about 300 grams. The USDA says it should be about 45-65% of your daily calorie intake.

Now, if you are eating less or even more calories a day, this is going to fluctuate. Plus, if you are trying to lose weight, you might be on the lower end of the carbohydrates you consume.

So, to give you an idea, let’s go over how many carbs are in a couple common foods.

Carbs In Apple = 25g in 1 medium apple

Carbs In Banana = 27g in 1 medium banana

Carbs in Cauliflower = 29 g in 1 medium head

Carbs In Eggs = .4g in 1 large egg

Carbs In Chicken = 0g

Carbs In Potatoes = 37g in 1 medium potato

Carbs In White Rice = 45g in 1 cup long-grain rice

Carbs In Black Beans = 20g in 1/2 cup

Tips On Carbs

Vegetables

To help you on your carbohydrate journey, I want to give you some simple tips to keep in mind. Even if you are looking to get rid of carbs, these tips are going to be helpful.

As you can see from above, most common foods have carbohydrates in them. So below, I’ll help you make the smartest choices.

Don’t think of carbs as strictly good or bad.

By thinking in good and bad terms, you aren’t going to be doing yourself any favors. When you do eat something that you consider as “bad,” you are going to feel bad about yourself.

No one is perfect and you shouldn’t have to be. So, change your mind set in order to improve your relationship with food.

Focus on whole, minimally processed foods and reduce the amount of refined foods.

If you are like me and love your carbohydrates, but you want to be healthier, maybe lose some weight, then this is the best advice I can give you.

Eat more natural foods and less processed carbs. You are going to get all the great nutrients and energy your body needs, without the added sugar, fat, and chemicals.

Pick whole fruits over juice.

I understand that it might be easier and faster to quickly down a glass of orange juice rather than actually peeling and eating an orange. Unfortunately, most fruit juices contain extra sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives.

If you drink a lot of juice, changing this one habit could have a huge impact for you.

Start by adding vegetables to at least one meal a day.

If you are having trouble coming to terms with carbs, this can be helpful.

Whether you are trying to make smarter carb choices, trying to keep your carbs in check, or want to add them back into your diet, veggies are a great place to start.

Not only are they good for you but there are many that are relatively low in carbs, such as spinach.

Carbs in food can change based on cooking.

Again, food and carbs are complex. It is good to know that the amount of carbs can change based on your cooking method.

If you are watching them closely, this is something to keep in mind and look up.

It typically isn’t a significant difference, however. But, this is an interesting fact so I like to share it.

Switch your pasta with whole grain pasta or even try veggie pasta.

You can make a healthier carb choice by taking a look at your pasta.

Try whole grain pasta or even veggie pasta. This is the best idea if you want to eat better but not give up your pasta.

I’m in this boat too. Another pro-tip, riced cauliflower is awesome!

Always check the label.

When I first started getting into health and fitness, one of the first things I did was learn to read a nutrition label.

This is a good skill to have to you can check out carbs and related information, like fiber. Check out this post if you want to brush up or learn to read a nutrition label.

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Published by Amy

I have always had a strong passion for health and fitness, as well as helping others. So much so, that I went on to receive my Level 1 Precision Nutrition Certification. My goal is to help others feel at their best! I know it can be a struggle to reach your fitness goals, whether it is losing weight, getting in shape, or improving your overall health. I want to help you reach your goals and find what works best for you so you can stick to it! Let's work on making you Happy Healthy and Strong!

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