Carbs – good or bad?

Carbs – good or bad?


In an era of technology where everyone can look up on the internet and find information within seconds, we are still poorly informed when it comes to healthy eating and making healthy choices. One of the most debated topics in nutrition nowadays is whether we should eat or not carbs? Are they good? In this article, we will clear the differences between good and bad carbs and will ease the making healthy choices process.


What are carbohydrates?

The human body fuels itself with energy from three macro-nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Chemically speaking, carbohydrates, or just simply carbs, are those little molecules composed only by carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

They can be classified into three important classes:

  1. Sugars: those carbs formed by short-chain of sugar molecules like glucose, fructose, galactose and sucrose.

  2. Starches: long chains of glucose molecules, which eventually get broken down into glucose in the digestive system.

  3. Fiber: carbohydrates that are not digested by the body


Providing body energy is the main role of carbs. It does so by providing 4 calories per each gram of carbs, excepting fibers – do not contain calories.


Simple vs Complex Carbs


There’s a huge controversy around the whole “carbs” topic. We usually hear different classifications like good carbs, bad carbs, starch carbs, sugar carbs. But what those classifications really mean?  The truth is we cannot classify them into one simple category for the simple reason that each and every one has different effects on our body health.

Let’s take a look at the sugar category for example. The added sugars in commercial beverages have negative effects on our health, but at the same time, the sugars and nutrients we find naturally in fruits and vegetables have the exact opposite effect.


It would be more reasonable to split them into:


  • Simple carbs: foods that have had been through refining process and lost its nutrients: sugar-added beverages, pastries, white pasta, white rice, white bread etc.


  • Complex carbs: foods that has the fiber found naturally there, haven’t been processed: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes.



 What is the difference between complex and simple carbs? The complex ones are rich in nutrients like antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals that lack in the simple ones. Also known as “empty” calories, meaning it has very little nutritional value. Why it is called so? The answer is pretty easy. Imagine carbs like a gift wrapping paper. The majority of the nutrients are found in the wrapping paper. Remove it and you’re left with the gift, in these case: the energy.


For a better understanding of refined/unrefined foods, below is a comparison of the nutritional content of one cup (120 grams) of whole wheat flour and one cup of refined wheat flour.


Whole Wheat Flour

 Refined Wheat Flour





87 grams

95.4 grams


16.4 grams

12.9 grams


2.2 grams

1.2 grams


14.6 grams

3.4 grams

Thiamin (% RDI)



Riboflavin (% RDI)



Niacin (% RDI)



Vitamin B6 (% RDI)



Folate (% RDI)



Pantothenic acid (% RDI)



Iron (% RDI)



Magnesium (% RDI)



Phosphorus (% RDI)



Potassium (% RDI)



Zinc (% RDI)



Manganese (% RDI)



Selenium (% RDI)




37.4 mg

13 mg

Source of the table: Authority Nutrition


If we look at the table, we can notice that the contains of some nutrients is richer than those found in refined flour. The same principles apply to fruits and vegetables as well.

To ease the choice between simple and complex carbs, we can look at the table below and compare the effects each one have on our body:


Complex Carbs

Simple Carbs

  • ↓sugar spikes

  • ↓ risk of some Chronic Diseases

  • Promote a healthier digestive system

  • ↓inflammation

  • ↑ triglycerides

  • ↑Heart disease risk

  • ↑ type 2 diabetes risk

  • Creates addiction

  • ↑obesity

  • Encourage overeating


What to choose?

When in comes to food choices, nothing is ever easy. The simplest way to choose the right type of carbs is to look for foods that are in their whole form and as unprocessed as possible.


Good Carbs


  • Vegetables: all of them. It is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.

  • Whole fruits: apples, bananas, strawberries, etc.

  • Legumes: lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.

  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.

  • Seeds: chia seeds, pumpkin seeds.

  • Whole grains: choose grains that are truly whole, as in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.

  • Tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.


Bad Carbs


  • Sugary beverages: Soft drinks, sweetened tea, sports drinks, fruit juices, etc.

  • Desserts and sweets: Donuts, cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy, etc.

  • White bread: This includes “white wheat” bread.

  • White pastas: These are made from refined wheat flour.


Keep in mind

Not all carbs are the same.

Complex carbs are far more nutritional than simple ones and have health benefits.

Choose foods that are in their whole form and avoid the processed ones.


This article has been written by Oana Mocian – Registered Dietetician


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