Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

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

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The Good, the Bad and the Better

Does the body care if glucose comes from simple carbs versus complex carbs?

Technically, no. The body will digest what it is given, but not all carbs are good. Feed the body simple carbs (like fructose and glucose) and it is likely you are downing "empty" calories that don't have any nutritional value. The body doesn't have to work very hard to get the glucose unleashed into the bloodstream, so sugar spikes rapidly.

Although sugar extracted from fruit is no different than the sugar in candy, maple syrup, honey or brown sugar, if you eat fruit that's a complex carb, you get worthy calories because they contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, nutrients that the body needs to perform properly.

One dangerous carbohydrate to avoid is high fructose corn syrup; it’s a simple carb that’s commonly found in sodas and processed foods. They sabotage your diet because your body converts it into fat much faster than complex carbs. This can end up packing on the pounds. Though we’ve been exposed to natural sources of fructose, like apples, figs and honey, for centuries, high fructose corn syrup sweeteners were not commercially used until the 1960s. Now they comprise more than 20% of our total daily carb intake.

Some complex carbs are more beneficial than others. Whole grains are not only more nutritious, they are digested more slowly and are less likely to cause a rush of glucose. White flour and white rice are complex carbs, but during processing, have had all the fibrous goodies stripped out. And while French fries are made from nutritious potato, deep-frying it in oil sabotages any health benefits.

Keep these tips in mind when consuming carbohydrates:

  • Skip refined and processed foods altogether.
  • Read the label to see if there is added sugar. Be wary of the "-oses" like high fructose corn syrup.
  • Choose whole grains (oats, some cerials, rye, millet, quinoa, whole wheat and brown rice), beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to have 40% of your total caloric intake come from complex carbohydrates.
  • Avoid the lure of low-fat foods, which contain a sizable amount of calories from sugar.
  • Avoid the lure of low-carb foods, which sometimes have more calories from fat.
  • Try some of Chris Powell’s high-carb recipes, which provide good complex carbs for your diet.