What Are Bad Carbs That We Eat?

Medically Reviewed on 8/30/2021
simple carbs vs. complex carbohydrates
Bad carbohydrates, known as simple carbs, are foods that are high in calories, low in essential nutrients and highly processed.

Foods that are high in calories, low in essential nutrients and highly processed constitute bad carbs. These bad carbs can cause a temporary spike in blood sugar, followed by a subsequent drop in blood sugar and fatigue. Because of their low-fiber content, they are not as filling as good carbs, causing bingeing behavior.

Examples of bad carbs to avoid include:

Table. Examples of Simple Carbohydrates
Food group Examples
Fruit products

Sweetened fruit juice, fruit leather, sweetened yogurt, jams

Grains or grain products

White rice, refined flour, white bread, breakfast cereal, couscous pasta, baked goods (such as donuts, cakes, muffins and sweets), corn syrup, cream of wheat

Nuts and seeds

Honey roasted nuts, nuts coated with sugar or candy, sweetened nut butter

Dairy products

Ice cream, sweetened yogurt, creams


Potato chips, french fries, pretzels, corn chips, popcorn candy cookies, rice cakes, granola bars, candies and chocolates


Low-fat salad dressings, ketchup, honey mustard, barbecue sauce


Refined sugar (white and brown), corn syrup, honey maple syrup


Soda, juice, sweet tea, sweetened beverages, sweet wine, beer, drink mixers containing sugar

Jams, jellies, tomato sauce, syrup, molasses and honey are all considered bad carbs because they include additional sugar or are naturally high in sugar. People who consume them in moderation may not suffer much harm from them. However, in the long run, it may cause several health problems.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to carbohydrate consumption. Depending on age, gender, eating habits, level of physical activity and other factors, each person has a varied daily carbohydrate requirement.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients of nutrition and are classified into three types:

  1. Monosaccharides: The most fundamental type of carbohydrate, which includes glucose and fructose.
  2. Disaccharides: Lactose and sucrose are two monosaccharide molecules that are bonded together to form disaccharides.
  3. Polysaccharides: Polysaccharide chains consist of more than two monosaccharide molecules bonded together, such as fiber and starch.

The primary function of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy since most carbs are broken down or converted into glucose or fat (stored energy), which can be used for energy.

Carbohydrates can be further classified into:

Table. Complex Carbohydrates vs. Simple Carbohydrates
Complex Carbs (Good Carbs) Simple Carbs (Bad Carbs)
Digest slowly Digest fast
Prolong energy Short energy
High fiber Low fiber
Feel full longer Feel hungry sooner
Natural sugar Added sugar
Low insulin levels Spike in blood sugar
Carbs used for energy Carbs converted into fat cells
Low glycemic High glycemic
Help with weight loss Weight gain


Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think See Slideshow

What are good carbs?

Good carbohydrates can be found in foods that are high in fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. These carbs do not usually cause massive blood sugar spikes followed by massive blood sugar drops. Instead, they help stabilize blood sugar levels, keeping you energized for longer periods and assisting you to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

Typically, good carbohydrates are whole foods that have undergone little or no processing, and may include:

Table. Examples of Complex Carbohydrates
Food examples Nutrients contained
Rice Brown and wild rice are all left in their natural state, retaining necessary minerals and fiber for healthy digestion.
Whole wheat bread, pasta and flour Made with whole grains, these are high in fiber and nutrients.
Whole grains Oats, barley and quinoa are high in fiber, potassium, magnesium and selenium.
Beans and peas Great sources of fiber, folate, iron and potassium.
Starchy vegetables Carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkin.
Leafy greens These super greens are rich in micronutrients.
Nuts and seeds Almonds, walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, hemp and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Carbohydrates are an important source of nutrition for the body and should not be avoided. Restricting carbs from your meals will not help you lose weight. While some carbs are better for you than others, even the harmful ones should not be avoided.

Carbohydrates in their natural, fiber-rich form are generally healthy and do not induce weight gain as opposed to processed and refined carbs. Make wise carbohydrate choices by prioritizing vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. A well-balanced diet that contains complex carbohydrates, as well as adequate sleep and physical activity, is more likely to keep a person healthy than focusing on removing a certain nutrient.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 8/30/2021
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Carbohydrate Advantage. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/the-carbohydrate-advantage

Better Health. Weight Loss and Carbohydrates. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/weight-loss-and-carbohydrates

Cleveland Clinic. Carbohydrates. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15416-carbohydrates

HelpGuide. Refined Carbs and Sugar: The Diet Saboteurs. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-carbs.htm#