What is a ‘Good Carb?’

Eat carbs or don’t eat carbs? Many popular diet plans recommend cutting out or cutting back on carbohydrates for fast weight loss. But does this mean reducing all carbs or just the bad ones?

Found in grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products, carbs are macronutrients that provide your body with energy. When you eat carbs your body converts them to sugar that turns into energy. The science behind low-carb diets shows that when you restrict the number of carbs you eat, your body begins to burn fat for energy instead of sugar.

Restricting all carbs, however, can result in negative health issues. That’s because carbohydrates are a necessary for the health of your brain, nervous system, circulatory system, muscles, and digestive system. The trick is choosing the right kind of carbs. The bad kind is plentiful, tempting, and addicting, but the right kind are healthy, filling, and can even aid in weight loss.

Here’s how to choose the right kind.

The Bad

Some carbs are made of simple chemical structures that are quickly digested. The sugars in these carbs are quickly absorbed into the blood stream, causing a burst in energy and a spike in blood sugar levels. Called simple carbs, these foods are usually processed or made with refined, white flour (think: cookies; packaged snack foods; soda; candies; and white bread, pasta, and rice). These types of simple carbohydrate foods offer very little nutritional value, are high in sugar and calories, are low in fiber, and are what you want to avoid.

Certain fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are also made of simple carbs and should be eaten sparingly, but they’re different from the foods listed above because they’re higher in fiber, take longer to digest, and don’t cause drastic blood sugar fluctuations.

The Good

Carbohydrates made from three or more sugars are called complex carbs. Because of their complex chemical makeup, these sugars take longer to digest, longer to be absorbed into the blood, and therefore provide longer-lasting energy.

Complex carbs include starchy foods such as beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, corn, as well as many fruits and vegetables and breads, cereals, rice, and pasta made from whole grains. They’re higher in nutrients and fiber and lower in calories compared to simple carbs. Because of their high fiber content and lasting energy potential, complex carbs in moderation are part of a healthy diet that promotes weight loss.

How to Choose

It can be tricky knowing which carbs are complex and which are simple. When deciding which carbs to eat, choose those in their most natural state. This includes foods like whole-grain bread, oatmeal, or raw broccoli. The less processed and refined, the better. You can use the glycemic index to find out how much any food will increase your blood sugar. Choose carbs that are low on the glycemic index scale to prevent your blood sugar from spiking and provide more constant energy levels.

Read nutritional labels to find foods high in both whole-grains and/or fiber and low in calories. Look for breads that contain at least two to three grams of fiber per slice and cereals with at least four grams of fiber in each serving. The first ingredient in grain-based foods should be a 100-percent whole grain.

Making the switch from simple to complex carbs can make a big difference in your weight, energy level, and health. Often all it takes is a few easy substitutions. So start by switching from sugary cereal made from refined, white flour to oatmeal for breakfast. Use whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain rice instead of white. And snack on high-fiber fruits and vegetables rather than crackers, chips, and cookies.

EXTRA: Fiber Carbs

Wanting to eat healthy carbs and increase your fiber intake at the same time? Here’s how much you should eat. Men age 50 and under need 38 grams of fiber a day. Men over age 50 need 30 grams. Women age 50 and under need 25 grams of fiber and day and women over age 50 need 21 grams.

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