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What Are Good Carbohydrates?

Updated on August 30, 2013
Good Carbs
Good Carbs | Source

What is a Balanced Diet?

In order to have a healthy and balanced diet we should include foods from varied sources. The food we have should be from a number of different food groups which have similar nutritional value. Ideally we should have a small portion from every food group daily, although not of equal size. We need less of some things and more of others, for example, an adult should have no more than 6g of salt (sodium) a day but have 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The Food Groups

The food groups tend to be divided into categories. These are as follows:

  • Carbohydrates for lasting energy
  • Proteins for healthy muscle and to help the body repair itself
  • Fats for healthy joints, skin and for energy
  • Vitamins and Minerals, which help the body to function properly, fight illnesses and promote healthy bones and organs

Food Groups

Food groups
Food groups | Source

Including Carbohydrates in Your Diet

Carbohydrates should make up about a third of your diet, as your body will get sustained energy from ‘good carbs’.

'Bad' Carbs
'Bad' Carbs

What is the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs?

Carbohydrates (or carbs) are foods which come in either forms of sugars, starches or fibres.

Sugary carbs are commonly known as ‘simple carbohydrates’, and are found in fruit (fructose), grape sugar (dextrose or glucose) and table sugar (sucrose). These are generally said to be the ‘bad’ carbs as they raise blood sugar levels quickly if too much is consumed. However, there are refined simple carbohydrates and unrefined simple carbohydrates.

The refined simple carbohydrates come in the form of white sugar or brown sugar which is found in cakes, jams and sweets.

The unrefined simple carbohydrates tend to be in fruit and vegetables and have a low effect on blood sugar levels.

‘Complex carbs’ are found in starchy food and are the ‘healthier’ option if they contain natural starch. They have a low Glycemic Index which means the blood sugar level isn't boosted as highly and so quickly and is steadier for a longer period of time.

Some complex carbs however contain refined starch which the body turns into sugar at a fast pace. These include white bread, white flour, white rice, cakes and biscuits.

Complex carbs with natural starches include whole grains, brown rice, root vegetables, oats, beans and nuts.


Do We Need Carbohydrates in Our Diets?

When the Atkins Diet became popular in 2003, it was thought that by consuming foods containing a high level of carbohydrates was bad. This was because the diet focused on keeping carbohydrate levels down so that the body can turn fat into energy instead. This process is called ‘Ketosis’ .

Although there is debate whether or not this particular diet is bad for us, some people believe carbs can make us fat.

When it comes to calories, carbohydrates actually contain less than fat or alcohol. So if we put on weight it is because we have eaten more than we have burned off.

As there are two types of carb, the refined sugary ones may make us tired quicker due to the quick release in energy. When we ‘come down’ from the sugar rush it is tempting to have more to give us that boost again.

The unrefined carbs are better for our energy levels, mood and insulin levels. Blood sugar levels are more stable and we do not get that same sugary hit.

Having a more stable energy level is better for us, and can ward off hunger pangs for longer.

Fibre in our diet can come from whole grains, fruit and vegetables and is good for our digestive system and can help regulate blood sugar.

Therefore, if we limit carbs from our diet, we are restricting vitamins and minerals from fruit and veg and are making ourselves prone to constipation due to lack of fibre.

Carbohydrates and Diabetes

When we eat sugar or refined carbohydrates which turn to glucose, the pancreas produces insulin so the body can store blood sugar for energy.

For those with Type one, (or ‘juvenile’ ) diabetes, the pancreas doesn't work properly. This means the pancreas either cannot make enough insulin to break down the glucose and store it, or the insulin it does produce cannot do its job.

Type 2 diabetes is more common and tends to develop later on in life. This type means the cells in the body are insulin resistant. The blood sugar levels stay high for a longer period of time, which puts a strain on the production of insulin.

Being diabetic means it is important to regulate sugar levels. Sugar levels which are too high can lead to hyperglycemia and low blood sugar levels lead to hypoglycemia.

Diet is the main way to regulate it, meaning having a balance of unrefined carbohydrates along with a healthy diet will help.

Good Carbohydrates
Bad Carbohydrates
Brown Rice
White Rice
Wholemeal Pasta
White Pasta
Brown/Wholemeal Bread
White Bread
Sweet Potatoes
White Potatoes
Wholemeal Crackers
French Toast
Porridge Oats
Chocolate Covered Cereal
Jelly Beans


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    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Hi Linda, I'm so glad you're inspired! I also cannot live without carbs and they are one thing which are so difficult to avoid.

      I try my best to switch to the healthier carbs rather than cut back on them, and try to balance things out with food from other food groups (like veg and protein).

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks for this Hub regarding carbs. I'm a carb junkie and really need to cut back on them. Your helpful information has given renewed inspiration to limit the bad carbs in my diet!

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      always exploring - it must be so difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels when there are so many hidden sugars out there.

      I know many diabetics and work in the health sector and have seen people battling with it.

      There has always been a stigma attached to carbohydrates and many people are aware that wholemeal bread is better than white bread, but it's good to be able to understand why this is. Thanks for your kind comment.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a well written and informative Hub. Highlighting the good carbs from the bad is useful in comparing. I have a diabetic Son who struggles..Thank you for sharing..

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Hi Leah - yes it's frightening. Even more so, I have so many 'white' carbs in my cupboard. We do buy wholemeal bread etc and I try to cook sweet potatoes rather than white, but there's so much sugar out there!

      Thanks for your comment :)

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      This is a great hub, Emma. My grandmother's doctor once told her: "Just avoid white food." Sugar, white bread, white rice, and other high sugar/simple carbohydrate foods. I shudder when I think of all the sugar in most kids' diets (and adult diets, too) - everything from "fruit snacks" that are really just candy to drinks with a high sugar content!