What Carbs to Eat:
What is a good or bad carb? Find out what kind of carbohydrates are better for you compared to others and how they work with this carb infographic and blog.
What are Carbs?
Have you looked at the back of a box of sugary cereal and seen the nutritional facts label? If the sugar content didn’t turn you away, then take a look at the number of carbohydrates (carbs). However, this is not to say that all carbs are adverse to your health. To distinguish between a good and bad carb, it is necessary to understand the nature of this elusive molecule.
Carbohydrates are essential biomolecules in our diet. They are a source of energy separate from protein and fats that are also responsible for providing energy to our brains. However, some carbohydrates are better for our health compared to others. That’s when carbs get categorized as complex or simple.
Carbohydrates, also known as saccharides, can be either simple or complex. Mono- and disaccharides are made of one or two carbohydrate molecules and are the smallest kinds of starches or sugars. For example, glucose is a monosaccharide sugar found inside our blood and provides energy at a microscopic level. Complex sugars like polysaccharides are made of - you guessed right - two or more carbohydrate molecules. In fact, a polysaccharide can be made of thousands of them!
Thus we go into what we see as good and bad carbs. Because complex carbs are made up of so many molecules, it takes time for the body to break it down into sugars that we can use. They also tend to have a low glycemic index (GI), meaning the sugars that are finally broken down from these complex carbs enter our bloodstream at a lower rate. Hence, those carbs will provide us with a steady stream of energy.
In contrast to complex carbs, simple carbs are super easy for our body to break down and they also have a higher glycemic index. As a result, sugar gets into our bloodstream very quickly and our body gets a big rush of energy, which we sometimes refer to as a sugar rush. That supply of energy, however, will go out as quickly as it came in and leave us with very little energy, aka a crash.
So, needless to say, complex carbs with low GIs are the carbs to aim for. Plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are natural sources of good carbs that provide steady energy as well as vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Simple carbs are common in processed or refined foods like chips, cereals, cookies, candy, and products with high fructose corn syrup. Though flour and white rice come from grains, all the natural nutrients have been processed out. Therefore, cakes, pretzels, and even hotdog buns are bad carb options.
As a rule of thumb, go for the carbs that will provide slow energy. They’ll keep you from overeating on easily digested carbs that have a lot of empty calories like that sugary cereal or potato chips. To make the most of your carb intake, incorporate exercise to expend that energy!