Good and Bad Carbohydrates

Carbs are not Created Equal

Carbohydrates have been given a bad rap for too long. They are on the taboo lists of most fad diets today. Carbs are the main energy source for the body and essential for maintaining optimum health. Leaving out such an important macronutrient from daily food intake is not the answer to losing weight or achieving a lean physique.

When carbs are overly restricted, you are likely to experience side-effects as your body tries to make up for the sudden lack of fuel. Adverse effects of carb restriction can include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, weakness, and depression along with more serious health risks. What it truly comes down to is our ability to know the difference between good vs. bad carbs and eliminate those not supporting a healthy lifestyle.

What's the Difference?

Good vs. Bad Carbs
There is a Difference Between a Good and Bad Carb. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

What is the difference between a good and bad carbohydrate? Not all carbs are created equal and learning how to select healthy carbs is really quite simple.

Think back to your grandmother’s era or the farmers of old that grew all things from the ground. They harvested and brought the bounty to the table for the family to enjoy. The basic idea is that good carbs are those that come out of the earth and not from a box.

Eating an ear of corn from the husk versus corn flakes, a peeled orange over processed juice, a baked potato instead of a bag of chips or French fries would be great examples of choosing a good carb over a bad carb.

A carbohydrate that is not processed or refined is better for you. Healthy carbs are full of nutrients that benefit the body. Choosing brown rice over white or wheat over white flour are additional examples of good carb selection.

Steer Clear of Bad Carbs

Bad Carbs
Bad Carbs. biffspandex/Getty Images

Steer clear of fake carbohydrates. These are the bad and ugly of the carb world and support an unhealthy lifestyle if eaten regularly.

Bad carbs are overly processed, nutrient stripped fake food products lining most grocery shelves today. Easily recognized by fancy packaging and marketing tags that say low fat, sugar-free, fat-free, enriched, low calorie, sugar added, liquid removed and found in boxes, bags, and wrappers.

The labels representing fake or bad carbs are endless. Unfortunately, bad carbs have hit the scene disguised as healthy products. It's important we become well versed in recognizing a bad carb and eliminating them as much as possible from our daily food intake. 

If you're unable to understand what's on the ingredient list, it's a high possibility you are viewing a bad carb item. The fewer ingredients to a packaged food item the better.

Ingredients that are understood and with a short shelf life then that would be a healthier buy. Good carbs will come in whole food form, typically not in a package, and include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Good and Bad Carb Comparison

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs. Glow Cuisine/Getty Images

Take a look at the comparison below and discover why carbs are not created equal:

Good Carbs (real food):

  • Low to moderate calories: we can eat filling amounts and satisfy our hunger without worry about going overboard on calories. “No one ever got fat eating kale.”
  • Nutrient values: enormous variety that provide essential health benefits
  • No refined sugars or refined grains
  • High fiber content: Naturally occurring and shown to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce bad cholesterol, assist in weight loss, maintain an optimal digestive system, and many more health benefits.
  • Low in sodium
  • Fats: Low in saturated fat, very low to no cholesterol, and no Trans fats

Bad Carbs (fake food):

  • High in calories for a small portion
  • High in refined sugars: refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup studies have shown to make up more than 20% of the calories we eat each day. Refined sugars are linked to disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. White sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and added sugars are examples
  • High in refined grains: white flour is stripped wheat made to look like white, no nutrient value
  • Nutrient value: zero to minimal
  • Fiber: zero to minimal
  • Sodium: High
  • Fats: High
  • Cholesterol: High
  • Trans fats: High

Based on the good to bad carb comparison above it is easy to see how eating good carbs daily can lead to a lean body and overall good health.

In contrast, consuming bad carbs like white bread, chips, packaged donuts, and fast foods contribute to poor health. They not only lead to unwanted weight gain but also inflated medical bills linked to diseases caused by eating fake foods.


National Academies Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, 9-5-02, nutrition for everyone, carbohydrates, 12-11-12

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