What’s The Difference Between Good Carbs And Bad Carbs?

Repeat after us: Carbs are not the enemy.


Isadora Baum |

Carbs took a reputation hit after the rise of the keto diet—much like Taylor Swift’s stock plummeted after Kim K. leaked the infamous “Famous” phone call.

But just like Tay bounced back with her “Reputation” album, carbs are making a comeback, too. They’re actually beneficial for your health and weight—and your body needs them to function.

“Carbohydrates are an important source of energy to fuel the body, and they break down to glucose, the brain’s preferred fuel source,” says Maggie Moon, registered dietician and author of The MIND Diet.

However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. “Carbs aren’t evil, but they come in different forms and portion sizes, and some are certainly healthier than others,” Moon says.

What’s a “bad” carb?

“I struggle with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ label, as I don’t want to demonise foods or cause food fears for people,” says Moon. But generally speaking, bad carbs are simple, processed carbohydrates that contain added sugars and refined grains. Some of the usual suspects: white bread, pastries, soft drinks, energy drinks, and even white pasta (sorry about that last one).

Watch: Here’s What You Need To Know About Counting Net Carbs To Lose Weight

What makes them so bad for you?

Bad carbs basically do nothing extra for your bod. “Too many refined grains and added sugars mean you’re getting kilojoules that are stripped of a lot of their nutrition,” says Moon. “It’s just not a great bargain for your health. You’re not getting the nourishment per kilojoule you could be getting.”

Plus, “eating lots of low-fibre and low-nutrient carbs like processed grains and added sugars will lead to excess kilojoules, spiked hunger levels, energy slumps, and often weight gain,” says Dana Angelo White, registered dietician and author of Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook. Yikes.

While you don’t really ever need added sugar or bad carbs, that doesn’t mean you have to sweat your birthday cupcake or forego a donut when you’re having a major craving. (Come on. We’re all human!)

Watch: 8 Things That Can Happen To Your Body When You Stop Eating Carbs

So, what is a “good carb?”

Don’t worry—there are some “good” carbs out there. “Generally speaking, healthier carbs come from whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables,” says Moon

They’re considered “good” carbs because of their high fibre content and nutritional profile, as most contain magnesium, protein, and essential vitamins and antioxidants, like A and C. They’re doing a LOT of good for your bod on top of the existing benefits of carbohydrates.

Examples of these good carbs include:

Quinoa
Oats
Popcorn
Black beans
Chickpeas
Edamame
Apples
Bananas
Carrots
Sweet potatoes

Most “good carbs” are complex carbohydrates, meaning that they’re made of long chains of carbohydrate molecules that take the body a long time to digest and convert to sugar. Translation: no sugar crash at 3 p.m.

Watch: Exactly How Many Carbs You Should Eat If You’re Trying to Lose Weight

How many carbs should you eat?

Carbs (particularly the good kind) should make up about 45 to 65 percent of your daily kilojoules, says Moon. So, for a 6,694-kilojoule diet, that’s 3,012 to 4,351 kilojoules worth, or 180 to 260 grams.

If you’re not into counting kilojoules (same, tbh) an easier way to make it all balance out at the end of the day is to eat snacks and meals that are about half good carbs, some protein, and some healthy fat, she says.

Watch: 9 Reasons Why You Need Carbs In Your Diet

How to decode the label

Sure, you can stick to whole foods and grains to get your good carbs. But bad, refined carbs can sneak into some really surprising places.

When looking at a nutrition label, first check out the line for total carbohydrates, then see how much of that comes from added sugars (right below it). “Try to avoid added sugars in general, or a good rule of thumb is to try to keep added sugars below 10 grams per serving,” she says.

“Fibre is also under carbohydrates, and a good rule of thumb is to look for at least three grams per serving,” Moon adds. “Look at the ingredients statement as well to keep an eye out for good carbs like whole grains, and not-so-great carbs like added sugar or refined grains,” Moon adds. (FYI: Sugar goes by a LOT of different names, so do your homework!)

Don’t over-think it though. As long as you’re including good carbs and minimising bad carbs throughout the day as part of a balanced diet, you’ll be on the right track.

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