Good Carbs Vs Bad Carbs: Know Your Carbs
Carbs are always a huge topic of discussion in the fitness and nutrition world. It can be very confusing trying to figure out good carbs vs bad carbs especially with all of the fad diets that keep surfacing here and there and telling you things like
“Eat double cheeseburgers without the bun but avoid eating apples”. With diet instructions like that, it can definitely make your head spin!
You might hear of people eliminating bad carbs from their diets, people lowering their carb intake, or people completely avoiding all types of carbs all together. But, which ones are good? Which ones are bad? Should you limit or avoid them? All of your carb questions are about to be answered, so read ahead!
What are Carbs and What Do They do?
Carbohydrates are one of the 3 main macronutrients needed to keep our bodies running smoothly. The other 2 are fats and proteins.
Carbs are the body’s first source of energy and contain 4 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9 calories per gram, and protein contains 4 calories per gram as well.
Carbohydrates are broken down by the body and turned into glucose, which is then used as energy. When our bodies don’t get enough carbohydrates, it will then turn to other sources (fat, muscle) to break down and utilize as an energy source.
Carbs also help to maintain your blood sugar levels and digestive health. Fiber is one form of carbohydrate that preserves intestinal health and function and works to lower bad cholesterol.
The Good, The Bad, and The Big Difference
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some are very healthy and beneficial for your body, and some can actually put your health at risk with regular consumption. Let’s talk about the differences between them.
Carbs are found in many different foods like sweet and juicy fruits, starchy potatoes, whole grains, and processed foods such as candies, cakes, white breads, and more. Though some of these sources are unhealthy and some are healthy, they all have one thing in common.
Each source of carbs will fall somewhere on the Glycemic Index. What is the Glycemic Index? I’m glad you asked. It’s a scale that measures how quickly the carbs from each food will enter the bloodstream.
High GI foods like sugary juices and sodas will enter the bloodstream much faster than lower GI foods such as apples and oatmeal, which enter at a slow and steady pace. After you consume your favorite soda, the blood sugar levels spike rapidly and you might experience a burst of energy.
Soon after, you might also experience a sugar crash. But, after a bowl of oatmeal, the carbs are broken down more slowly and released into the bloodstream over a longer period of time providing you steady energy without the subsequent crash.
The reason some carbs are bad and some are good is because of how your body responds to them. For instance, when you eat something with a lot of refined sugar in it, the body’s demand for insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to be stored in the fat, muscle, and liver to be used as energy later) is increased.
When your insulin levels are consistently heightened, the body’s sensitivity to insulin is then decreased and glucose will build up in the bloodstream. This is known as Insulin Resistance and can most definitely lead to weight gain and Diabetes over time.
What Types of Carbs to Eat, and When to Eat Them
Now that you know what carbs are and the various ways your body can utilize them, let’s go over the best sources of carbs and the not-so-good ones.
Complex carbohydrates, also known as “Good Carbs” are the ones that keep your energy revved up for longer periods of time and provide you with beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Wild Rice
- Brown Rice
- Sweet Potatoes
- Green Peas
- Black Beans
- Soy Beans
Of course, this is not a complete list of all complex carbs, but it gives you an idea of what to look for in each category.
Bad carbs, are the ones that spike your blood sugar levels quickly and can cause you to feel tired (sugar crash) afterwards. Bad carbs usually do not provide any nutrients to the body and can leave you feeling hungrier after consumption.
Those types of carbs are typically found in the following types of foods
- Fruit juice with added sugar
- White breads
- Sugary Cereals/Kids Cereals
- Raw Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Baked Treats
Simple Carbs that Aren’t So Bad
There is one more type of carb that I’d like to mention and that’s the simple carb. Though bad carbs are simple carbs, there are also simple carbs that are not completely horrible for you. They do process more quickly than complex carbs, but they also provide your body with healthy nutrients and energy. Simple carbs can be found in foods such as the following
- Fresh Orange Juice (no sugar added, not from concentrate)
- White Rice
Knowing the difference between good and bad carbs is important, especially if you have weight loss or fitness goals in mind. For instance, if you are trying to put on muscle, complex carbs are a great addition to your pre-workout meal. That’s because they not only provide you with the energy needed to power through your workout, but they will also help to prevent the body from digging into your protein (muscle) stores for an alternate source of energy.
If you are trying to lose weight, it’s important to limit your simple carb consumption as sugary processed foods provide our bodies with nothing but empty calories and they can prevent fat loss when eaten regularly.
Cutting off any type of carb consumption earlier in the day will also aid in your weight loss goals. That’s because you’ll have more of a chance to burn them off throughout the day when you eat them earlier than you would if you eat them closer to bedtime. When we don’t burn off carbs, they can then be converted to glucose and stored as fat.