What Are Refined Carbohydrates?

refined carbs definition
Dorling Kindersley/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Refined carbohydrates are grain products that have been processed by a food manufacturer so that the whole grain is no longer intact. The refining or milling process removes dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If the nutrients are added back in, the refined grains or refined carbohydrates are called enriched grains.  

Refined Carbohydrates Definition

In many nutritional settings, you hear experts talk about refined grains or refined carbs.

This can be a confusing term because the term "refined" sounds healthy. But the definition of refined carbohydrates is tricky. Refined grains can be part of a healthy diet, but may not always the healthiest choice.

Food manufacturers often refine or process grains to create a food product that is softer and less bulky. White bread is made from refined grains and is an example of a refined carbohydrate food. White bread is softer and easier to eat than bulky whole grain bread and many consumers prefer the taste and texture.

So is white bread less healthy than whole grain bread? It can be. Food manufacturers may add nutrients back into refined carbohydrates like white bread to "enrich" the food's nutritional value. You'll see the words "enriched flour" or made with enriched grains" on these food labels. But those refined carbohydrates are still lacking healthy fiber - a nutrient that is provided by whole unrefined grains.

According to the USDA, enriched grain products can provide some nutritional benefit, but not when we overeat them. Refined carbohydrate foods are often high in calories and contain solid fats and added sugars (called "SoFAS"). The organization recommends that you replace refined carbs with whole grain foods for improved health.

How to Eat Fewer Refined Carbohydrates

So how do you cut back on your intake of refined carbs? The first step is to identify them in your diet. They might be hiding in places that you wouldn't imagine.  White bread is a common source of refined carbs. But refined grains can also be found in many other foods.

Common Sources of Refined Carbohydrates (List)

  • Pasta (especially white pasta)
  • White rice
  • Rice snacks
  • Crackers
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Soft breads 
  • Baked desserts
  • Pastries
  • Pizza Dough
  • Pancakes
  • Waffles

Not all foods on this list will contain refined grains. The best way to know is to check the ingredients list underneath the Nutrition Facts Label. If you see that the food contains enriched flour, then the carbohydrates have been refined.

To improve your diet, replace refined grains with whole grains. Choose bread that is made with whole wheat or crackers that have been made with whole grains. You'll also find pasta that is manufactured with whole grains. 

By replacing your refined carbohydrates with whole grains, you increase your dietary fiber intake.

Eating more fiber will help you to feel fuller longer and eat less throughout the day

Sources:

Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Chapter 3: Foods and Food Components to Reduce. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed: December 20, 2015.

ChooseMyPlate. All About the Grains Group. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed: December 20, 2015. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains

ChooseMyPlate. Serve More Whole Grains for a Healthier School Meal. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed: December 20, 2015. http://http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/jtf_grains.pdf

Continue Reading