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Good Carbohydrates vs. Bad Carbohydrates: How to Tell the Difference


While your body needs carbs daily to function properly, choosing foods containing good carbohydrates over bad carbs is beneficial for your health. Good (healthy) carbs help you maintain a healthy body weight, feel full for long periods of time, and can even help lower blood cholesterol and heart disease risks. Therefore, knowing the difference between good versus bad carb-containing foods is a must.

What are Good Carbs?

The total number of carbohydrates you eat daily is most important, but certain carbs are healthier than others. All carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, and the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests adults get 40 to 60 percent of their total calories from carbs, mainly from complex carbs and natural sugars. Foods containing good carbs are rich in essential nutrients, such as fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Examples of healthy carb-containing foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes (such as black beans, pinto beans, lentils, soybeans, and chick peas), low-fat milk, plain low-fat yogurt, soy milk, and whole grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain breads. Nuts and seeds also contain small amounts of carbs.

List of Bad Carbs

Bad carbs are found in foods that contain added sugar but few, if any, additional nutrients. These foods don't keep you feeling full very long like good carbohydrates do. Examples of bad carbs include sugary drinks like soda and lemonade, doughnuts, pastries, cookies, candies, syrups, table sugar, many types of chips and crackers, French fries, fried foods, chips, white rice, and white bread.

Complex Carbohydrates

While some people refer to complex carbs as good carbs and simple carbs as bad carbs, this is not always the case. Not all complex carbs are healthy, and not all simple carbs are unhealthy. Complex carbohydrates are starchy foods, according to the American Diabetes Association. Starches, especially those high in fiber and protein, generally take longer to digest than simple sugars -- so they keep you feeling full for long periods of time. Healthy sources of complex carbs include whole grains and starchy veggies like corn, peas, beans, and potatoes, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Examples of less healthy complex carbs include white bread and white rice.

Simple Carbohyrates

Many simple carbs containing added sugar, such as table sugar, syrups, candies, and sodas, provide little nutritional value other than being a source of quick energy. However, fruits, milk and milk products contain natural sugars and are sources of healthy simple carbs. Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and milk products are excellent sources of protein and calcium. Therefore, it's important to include some natural sugars in your diet daily, and not all simple carbohydrates are bad carbs.


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An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as and

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