In this infographic Online Nutrition Degrees share their guide to good carbs and bad carbs.
Here’s what they cover:
- Why carbohydrates matter to you
- The foods you’ll find carbs in
- Complex carbs = good
- Simple carbs = bad
- The Glycemic Index (GI)
Check out the infographic for more detail.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, when it comes down to it, are sugars, fibres and starches found in all your vegetables, fruits, grains and various dairy products.
Let’s face it, carbs are often looked down upon – sometimes avoided altogether – in modern, trendy diets which tend to focus on minimal eating.
You’ve probably heard all about how carbs are bad for you. But truth be told, carbs – which are one of the basic nutritional food groups – are essential to a heathy diet.
Carbohydrates are actually more than just a basic food group. They’re macronutrients, and are one of the three main ways our bodies obtain calories for energy.
In this way, they’re one of the main ways our body sources and stores vital energy supplies.
These macronutrients – the remaining two being proteins and fats – are essential for our bodies to work properly.
Carbohydrates get their name because, at their molecular levels, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen!
And we don’t just need small amounts, either. Our bodies require large amounts of them.
And since the body is unable to produce macronutrients itself, we need to give it to our bodies through a healthy and balanced diet.
But what are the functions of carbs, what’s the difference between simple and complex carbs, and are too much carbs bad for you?
Functions of carbs – why do they matter?
Carbohydrates have a huge role in providing our bodies with key sources of energy.
When we eat foods containing carbohydrates, these compounds are digested and turned into stores of glucose – the main source of energy.
Though fat and protein are also great providers of energy, carbs give us the most energy gram for gram.
And not only do they provide the necessary fuel for our central nervous system (CNS) to function, they give us the energy our muscles need to move our bodies.
Carbs are also responsible for preventing protein being used as a source of energy, and for helping break down fats for metabolism.
A function that is often overlooked when it comes to carbohydrates is their brain benefits. Carbs are essential for healthy brain function, being a huge influence on our mood and memory.
What’s the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates?
When we talk about ‘carbs’, there are really two types of them – simple and complex.
Complex carbs take much longer to digest and are far more stable sources of energy than their simple counterparts. They can be found in vegetables, pasta, bread, whole grains and beans to name just a few.
Simple carbs, as we discussed, are broken down much quicker to be used as energy reserves. They are found in foods such as fruits and dairy products, as well as in processed sugars such as syrups and soft drinks.
When it comes down to comparison, it’s important to compare the most important stuff, and that’s levels of nutrients.
Complex carbs contain more nutrients and their simple counterparts, and are higher in fibre, with food digestion occurring over prolonged periods of time.
For this reason, complex carbs are much more filling, offering us great options for weight control.
Aside from nutritional benefits, complex carbs offer other benefits in the way of helping those with type 2 diabetes manage blood sugar surges after meals.
Simple carbs give us rapid bursts of energy when compared with complex carbs, and this is because they are digested and absorbed by our bodies much faster.
For this reason, simple carbs can cause sharp increases in blood sugar levels, while complex carbs a more sustained and prolonged sources of energy.
Are ‘too much carbs’ bad for you?
Ultimately, as you might have guessed, carbs are debated heavily in the nutritional and weight loss world.
This whole notion at carbs can be bad for us has left the vast majority of those trying to navigate their weight loss journey feeling a bit confused.
It’s also led people to mistake carbs for what they are – valuable sources of energy for our health.
Carbs are a broad category, as the NHS says, and not all are made equal, as you saw earlier.
What matters is the type and quantity of carbohydrate.
Good carbs vs bad carbs – making the right decisions
As a rule of thumb, carbs that remain in their natural, rich-in-fibre forms are the best for your bodies. On the other hand, those that have been modified and/or have had their fibre removed, are generally not as good.
The chances are, if what you are eating is a whole, single ingredient food then it’s more than likely a healthy food – it doesn’t really matter what the carbohydrate inside is.
However, there is a way to categorise the vast majority of carbs as either good or bad. But bear in mind, these are guidelines.
- Vegetables – all of them. No, really.
- Nuts: All varieties including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, etc.
- Seeds: pumpkin and chia
- Fruits: Apples, oranges, blueberries etc.
- Legumes: Kidney beans, peas, lentils etc.
- Whole grains: pure oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc.
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.
- All sugary drinks: Coca cola, vitamin water, etc.
- Fruit juices: Yes, you heard us. Unfortunately, fruit juices can have similar effects as those seen by drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like fruit flavoured water.
- Pastries, cookies and cakes: Sweet goods tend to be very high in refined wheat and sugar.
- French fries and potato chips: Whole potatoes are healthy, but French fries and potato chips doused in oil are not.
- Ice cream: Most types of ice cream are very high in sugar, although there are exceptions.
- Chocolates: If you really need to cave in, choose dark chocolates containing 60% or more of cocoa
- White bread: White breads are what we call refined carbohydrates: they’re low in nutrients and incredibly bad for our day-to-day metabolism.