Which Carbs Are Good for You?

Medically Reviewed on 9/24/2021
which carbs are good for you
What is the difference between good carbs and bad carbs? Learn about which carbs are good for you and which you should avoid

Carbohydrates are a major source of energy and one of the three macronutrients in your diet, the other two being fat and protein. But it’s not just the amount of carbs in your diet that are important, but also their quality that plays a crucial role in keeping you healthy. 

Good carbs or complex carbs can help regulate blood sugar, blood cholesterol levels, digestion, and weight loss. Examples of good carbs include:

  • Whole grains (oats, quinoa, whole wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, barley) and their products (whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta)
  • Fruits (apple, kiwi, berries, melon, banana, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, papaya)
  • Vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, spinach, asparagus, pumpkin, kale, bell peppers, carrots, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, sweet potatoes)
  • Legumes and beans (kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, green peas, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Dairy products (low-fat milk and yogurt)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds)
  • Mushrooms (crimini, portabello, oyster, enoki, etc.)

What are bad carbs?

Bad carbs include refined or processed foods that have a low nutritional value and are high in simple sugars. During processing, they lose minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

Bad or refined carbs are calorie-dense, which means consuming the same weight of refined carbs will give you more calories than consuming whole foods. Examples of bad carbs include:

  • Sugary foods such as cookies and pastries
  • Refined flour pasta and bread
  • White rice
  • Pastries
  • Sugary drinks including juices and sodas
  • Fast foods such as burgers, French fries and pizza
  • Table sugar
  • Honey
  • Corn syrup

Be wary of foods that are promoted as being healthy because they claim to be free of refined sugars. They may contain other sources of refined carbs, such as honey or molasses. Despite being free of sucrose or table sugar, such foods may contain quite a lot of calories. 

Read labels regarding nutritional content, and keep in mind that simple or refined carbs may be camouflaged with terms such as dextrose, sucrose, agave nectar, fructose, and cane syrup.

How many carbs should you eat in a day?

The amount of carbs a person must eat on a daily basis depends on several factors such as age, weight, physical activity, and underlying health conditions (such as diabetes). 

For most healthy people, about 45%-65% of the calories they consume should come from carbs. This means that if you consume 2,000 calories in a day, about 900-1,300 calories should be from carbs. There are 4 calories per gram of carbs, so that means consuming 225-325 grams of carbs a day. 

However, those estimates may be higher or lower depending on your calorie requirements. Furthermore, it is not just the quantity of carbs that matter but also their quality. Focus on meeting your carbe requirements through whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/24/2021