Good Carbs Vs Bad Carbs: What’s The Difference?

Nutrition // Louise McDonald, Cert III & Cert IV Fitness

Carbohydrates – which one’s are the best, or should we be avoiding them altogether? Carbs have been the victim of many a diet or trend over the years, deemed the number one ‘not to eat’ food. But carbohydrates are essential to our health, so it’s important to know the difference between the good carbs and the bad. 

Firstly, what are carbohydrates? 

There are three main types of carbohydrates.

Starches 

Starches are molecules that are broken down into glucose in our digestive system.

Foods that are high in starch include:

  • Vegetables like peas, corn, and potatoes
  • Dried beans, lentils and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, and split peas
  • Grains like oats, barley, rice, and wheat

When choosing breads and cereals at the supermarket, it’s important to look for wholegrain options. Whole grains contain more fibre and more vitamins and minerals than refined grains (which have been processed to remove the most nutritious parts) and will help support a healthy gut, keep blood sugar levels in check and prevent digestive issues. 

Look for foods that contain 100 per cent whole grains, or that list a whole grain at the beginning of the ingredients list.

Sugars 

Sugar is another source of carbohydrate. There are two main types of sugars:

  • Naturally occurring sugars such as those in dairy ( lactose) or fruit ( fructose)
  • Sugars that are added during processing, namely white sugar (other common additives include corn syrup, malt syrup, and molasses)  

The added sugar in processed foods doesn’t provide nutrients to the body and can lead to spikes in blood sugar, weight gain or chronic illness. More natural sources, such as the fructose in fruits and vegetables or lactose in milk, will boost your energy in a healthier way, while these foods also bring a variety of other important nutrients to your diet. 

Fibre 

Fibre cannot be digested by the body (and so doesn’t act as an energy source) but rather helps to keep our digestive systems healthy and regulate the body’s use of glucose, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar levels in check. 

There are two types:

Soluble fibre – helps to slow the emptying process in our stomachs, keeping us fuller for longer. This helps to control blood glucose levels and lower our cholesterol. Fruits, veggies and legumes are great sources.

Insoluble fibre – absorbs water to support a healthy bowel and bowel movement. This is found in wholegrain breads, some cereals, wheat bran, seeds, nuts and the skin of fruit and veggies.

Simple vs Complex – aka Bad vs Good?

You’ve probably heard people refer to carbohydrates as either simple or complex

Complex carbs (good carbs) – Commonly starchy carbohydrates, these are the types of carbs that contain stacks of important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Consuming complex carbs will provide a slower release and sustained energy for the body. These include:

  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Root veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Prunes

Simple carbs  (less good) – These foods provide quick, unsustained energy and mostly fall into the group of processed and refined foods. These include:

  • Baked goods – Biscuits/pastries/desserts
  • Some cereals
  • Soda
  • Chips
  • Sweets
  • Sweetened drinks/energy drinks
  • Ice cream

While vegetables, fruit and milk (our sugar-based carbs) are considered to be a simple carb, they do contain essential nutrients that would have them perform more like a complex one when they are digested. 

The key takeaway

Carbs are not evil and they are an integral part of a balanced diet. How you include your choice of good carbs is what makes the biggest difference. Try to choose starchy, unrefined whole grains and vegetables and limit simple sugars that aren’t sourced from fruit or dairy. This will have the most positive impact on your blood sugar levels, energy, weight, and overall long term health! 

We recommend trying to fill 25% of your plate with a source of complex, good carbs each meal. For breakfast, a good option would be peanut butter, banana and walnuts on wholegrain toast. Or for a savoury option, avocado, mushroom and a poached egg on wholegrain toast. For lunch, we recommend a large baked sweet potato or 1 cup of brown rice with chicken or tuna and a greek salad. For dinner, a great option would be 1 cup of cooked chickpeas and lentils tossed with salmon and zucchini noodles. Click here and here for some extra recipe options 🙂

For further help with your diet and nutrition, or to learn more about our 12WBT nutrition plans, visit us here.

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