How To Choose Good Carbs and Avoid Bad Carbs in Your Diet

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You may have heard that you have to cut carbohydrates (or “carbs”) out of your diet if you want to lose weight. Too many carbohydrates in your diet may get stored as fat, which can lead to weight gain and unhealthy fat around your belly. Weight gain caused by carbohydrates is only half the story. You need carbohydrates for a balanced diet. Carbohydrates are important to increase your energy, provide nutrients and even help you lose weight if you eat the right type of carbohydrates. You should never cut all carbs out of your diet. Your cells need carbs for energy production. Good carbs can be found in whole grains and unprocessed foods.

Any food that contains starch, sugar and fiber is a carbohydrate. During the digestive process, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which your cells use for energy. Plant-based carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates, composed of groupings of molecules linked in chains. Complex carbohydrates are single and double-chained sugars, which are found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates include sugars, which are often added to other foods for flavor. You can tell which foods contain simple carbohydrates because the sugars usually end with the letters “-ose” such as fructose and sucrose. Simple sugars have practically no nutritional value, lacking vitamins, minerals or other trace elements your body needs. Bad carbs are usually found in highly processed foods with added refined sugars and other ingredients that are not naturally found in food. The key to a healthy diet of carbohydrates is to focus on eating good carbs while avoiding bad ones.

Good Carbs
The best types of carbs are those foods that are unprocessed and consumed in their “natural” state. Good carbohydrates provide your body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help combat cell damage by eliminating free radicals in your body. Raw vegetables are the most obvious source of unprocessed carbohydrates. Leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage, provide good carbs and a host of other important nutrients. Natural, unprocessed foods that you can include in your diet are raw nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and walnuts. Beans, rice and whole grains are another important source of good carbs. Replace carbohydrates from highly processed white flour with minimally processed foods such as whole grain breads, crackers and pasta. Choose whole grain cereals, including whole oat, in your diet to get good carbs for energy without extra calories. Fresh, unprocessed fruits and berries are a delicious way to get your good carbs, as well as a myriad of other important nutrients and antioxidants.

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Benefits of Good Carbs
Eating the right type of carbohydrates can increase your energy and help you lose weight. Other benefits of eating good carbs include helping you to feel fuller longer because natural carbohydrates are high in fiber. This helps to prevent overeating, which can help you control your calorie intake for weight loss or to maintain your current weight. Good carbs also stimulate your metabolism which helps you burn more calories, even when you are not exercising. High fiber carbohydrates will provide long-lasting energy, lower your cholesterol and also help remove waste from your body. Good carbs help to stabilize insulin production and keep blood sugar levels from spiking or dropping too rapidly. Replacing all those bad carbs with good carbs can help you avoid chronic health problems such as diabetes and obesity.

Bad Carbs
Bad carbs can lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and even cancer. You will find bad carbs in highly processed, convenience foods. These foods are processed carbohydrates that have little or none of their original nutrients and fiber left. The fiber is removed to make the food more appealing. Highly processed foods are easier to store, easier to transport and have a longer shelf life than most natural carbohydrates. You will find bad carbohydrates in almost all baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, white bread and white pastas. Snacks, candies and sugary sodas are loaded with bad carbs. Cupcakes, potato chips, cheese snacks, processed crackers like saltines, and candy bars are loaded with bad carbs. White sugar, processed white flour and corn syrup are common ingredients (along with a long list of preservatives and artificial colors and flavors) in most bad carb foods. Many convenience foods, including frozen entrees and side dishes are high in bad carbohydrates and preservatives.

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Why Are Bad Carbs, Bad?
Bad carbs are bad for you because your body is not able to process these types of carbohydrates as easily as natural carbs. Your body evolved to eat a variety of natural foods high in fiber, natural sugars and natural carbohydrates. Highly processed carbohydrates and foods that contain processed sugar, corn syrup and white flour are difficult to digest. Processed carbohydrates can make your blood sugar levels and insulin production unstable, leading to blood sugar spikes and rapid drops in blood sugar. Most bad carbs are loaded with “empty calories”. Empty calories have practically no nutritional value. As such, what isn’t used for immediate energy is stored as fat. You risk diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol and heart disease. You also risk obesity and all the other chronic conditions associated with being obese.

Avoiding Bad Carbs
The fastest and easiest way to cut bad carbs from your diet is to avoid junk food and convenience foods. Chips, candy and soda are out. Drink water and natural juices in place of soda. Snack on fresh fruit and nuts instead of chips and candy. Avoid refined white flour foods, such as cakes, cookies, cupcakes and pastries. Exchange these foods for wholesome whole grains found in whole grain bagels, breads and cereals. Stay away from the frozen packaged convenience foods and head for the fresh vegetables section of your grocery store. Eat at least two servings of leafy green vegetables every day. Salads that include spinach, celery, green peppers, tomatoes, bean sprouts, carrots and any colorful vegetables are a healthy way to get loads of healthy, clean carbs. Satisfy your sweet tooth by eating sweet fresh fruits, including strawberries, kiwi, bananas, blueberries and blackberries. Leave the processed, sweetened breakfast cereals on the shelf and opt for whole grain breakfast cereals, such as whole grain oats and oatmeal. Add some fresh fruit for sweetness to your oatmeal instead of sugar. You don’t have to give up pasta when cutting out bad carbs. Switch from white flour processed pasta to whole grain pasta. Making these dietary changes in the type of carbohydrates you consume can result in drastic changes in your body composition which means lower body fat levels and a leaner physique!

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About Author

Robin Reichert

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!

5 Comments

  1. Crystal Kaulbars on

    Thank you so much, Robin! I’ve recently found Weight Watchers, but stopped as I didn’t want to pay to learn, but really loved their Points Plus system, but that diet in combination with my gym routine just hasn’t been enough to lose the weight quick enough for me, so I wanted to find out how to cut all carbs out of my diet. That’s how I found your article 🙂 It’s a good thing I did or I could’ve been throwing the baby out with the bath water!! I need to shop after work tomorrow night and I’ll take the list of goodies you have here. I’d already cut out almost all the bads, still get some Weight Watchers 100 calorie goodies for when I just have to be human, but otherwise I think this change will be the best to make me look and feel great while having fantastic food 🙂 Rock on!

    • Thank you, Crystal, for your kind remarks. I’m so glad that you found my article helpful. Sounds like you’re on the right track. I think one of the healthiest approaches to long-term weight loss success is eating a balanced diet of whole foods at least 80 percent of the time, getting regular physical activity, and managing stress. The key is to choose foods that will improve your health, not tear it down. There is nothing like the cleansing and healing power of fresh, wholesome food full of live nutrients to support your digestion, lift your spirits and make you feel alive. Food is fuel, so choose wisely! 🙂

  2. Enjoyed your article! For ages I’ve avoided white flour and added sugar. My one downfall is chips and crackers. I eat lots of hummus but always need something convenient to dip into it. I buy whole grain crackers at Whole Foods, but I know lots of “whole grain” products use refined flours and grains. So, is there any such thing as a “healthy” chip or cracker? Maybe if there’s a threshold where it has enough fiber? Most Blue Corn chips I buy have 2 grams of fiber and the same for the crackers. Thanks for any help!

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