Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Choosing the right carbohydrates can often be complex. Learn more.

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Most people can’t tell a good carbohydrate from a bad one if their life depended on it. But it does. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap of late. But before you vote all carbs off the island, learn how to tell a good carb from a bad carb.

Carbohydrates are the most misunderstood and maligned of all the calorie-producing foods. They have been blacklisted by skittish dieters who worry that they are the bane of their weight gain. But low-carb dieters may be misinformed. Eating a diet rich in carbohydrates doesn't necessary cause weight gain, but eating too much of the wrong ones can.

Complex Life of Carbs

At times it may feel like you need a PhD to figure out carbohydrates. Simply put, carbs are the body's main source of energy. The energy derived from fat metabolism can provide back up, but carbs are the preferred source of energy, particularly in the brain.

Foods that contain sugars, starches and fiber all belong to the carbohydrate camp. With the exception of unabsorbable fiber, all carbohydrates are converted during digestion into smaller molecules of glucose, the essential source of energy used by every cell in the body. Carbohydrates are mostly plant-based foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes – with the exception of dairy products, which are animal-based carbohydrates. They are comprised of single, double or multiple groupings of hydrogen and oxygen molecules? linked together in chains.

Simple carbohydrates are all single (monosaccharides) and double-chained sugars (disaccharides). You can recognize them because they usually end with “-ose” – glucose and fructose (from fruit), lactose (from dairy) and the table sugar sucrose (from cane or beet sugar). Simple sugars are usually added to low-fat foods to give them flavor. They are usually devoid of nutrition because they don't contain many (if any) micronutrients, vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals.

Complex carbohydrates are many chains of simple sugars joined together (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides). They include starch, a form of carbohydrates that plants store, and fiber, the mostly undigested part of the plant. Foods that contain complex carbs include grains, breads, pasta, beans, potatoes, corn and other vegetables.