What Are Good Carbs and Bad Carbs?

low carb diet
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If you want to cut back on carbs to lose weight, you've got a tough job ahead of you. It's not just that cutting back on a major source of calories in your diet is a tough challenge. But then deciding which carbs to cut is a chore as well. What's the difference between good carbs and bad carbs? And is that the same thing as simple and complex carbs?

Use this guide to sort through the facts about carbohydrates.

Then decide if you want to eliminate certain carbohydrates, reduce carbohydrates or simply choose better carbohydrates to lose weight.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for your body. Your body uses carbohydrates, broken down into glucose (blood sugar) to fuel to your muscles and brain so that you can move, think and function properly during the day. You eat carbohydrates in the form of sugar, starch or fiber.

Simple carbohydrates are those carbs that are closest to their most basic form - sugar.  Sometimes simple carbs are called simple sugars. Simple carbs can include things like table sugar (sucrose), syrups, candy and sweetened beverages.  But this group can also include fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Simple carbs are digested quickly so they provide a quick burst of energy to your body.

Complex carbohydrates are starches and fiber. Complex carbs are still considered "sugar" to your body because in order to use them for fuel, your body has to break them down into glucose for energy.

But they have a more complex chemical structure, so they take longer for your body to digest and process. For that reason, they provide a more tapered and steady dose of energy to your body.

Complex carbohydrates can include processed foods like pasta, rice and bread. But many fresh foods are also considered complex carbohydrates, like fresh vegetables, beans and some fruits.

Whole grains like oatmeal are also complex carbohydates that contain fiber, a carbohydrate that your body is not able to digest.

What Are Good Carbs and Bad Carbs?

You might think that simple carbs are bad carbs because those are the ones that include things like candy and table sugar.  And good carbs must be complex carbs because that group includes vegetables and grains. But it's a little bit more complicated than that. In truth, there aren't really any carbs that are all good or all bad. So there is no official definition of good carbs and bad carbs.  But there are some carbohydrates that may be considered better than others. 

Carbohydrates might be considered "good" if they provide both energy and other nutritional benefits to your body. Both simple and complex carbohydrate foods can do this. For example, many fresh fruits are simple carbohydrates that provide important vitamins. Milk is a simple carbohydrate that provides calcium and vitamin D.  A complex carbohydrate like brown rice provides energy along with fiber to keep you feeling full so you eat less.

On the other hand, carbohydrates might be considered "bad" if they provide calories (energy) without  any other significant nutritional value. For example candy is a simple sugar that can energize your body.  But it doesn't provide any other healthy nutrition and it can rot your teeth.  Refined complex carbohydrates like white bread or white pasta provide energy for your body, but you don't benefit from fiber because the whole grain has been processed out.

What Kind Carbs Should I Eat?

Your body needs carbohydrates for energy, so it's not realistic to eliminate them altogether.  And it is not a good idea to reduce them to unhealthy levels, either. But if you want to lose weight, you can make smarter food choices.

Don't worry about good or bad carbs and you can even ignore the difference between simple and complex carbs. Instead, make mindful choices to consume carbohydrates that provide energy along with fiber, vitamins and minerals for good heath. You'll generally find these in minimally processed foods like whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit.

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