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Good & Bad Carbs: What Exactly Are We Talking About?

Carbs are called a lot of things in our world today- good and bad, simple and complex, whole and refined. But what are we really talking about when we look at carbs in this way? And what does it mean to our overall health? Let’s take a look a bit more in depth.


Before we go any further, let’s talk about what carbs actually are. Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients in our diet (along with protein and fat). They can be sugars, starches, or fiber and their main purpose is to provide our body with energy. Most carbs get broken down into our system into glycogen, which is a source of energy for our brains, as well as all of basic bodily functions. So, carbs essentially give us energy to live. But not all carbs are created equal—- at least not once we involve man-made technology!


When most people talk about bad carbs, they are referring to refined starches or simple sugars. Refined starches are things like white rice or white flour. These are grains that were once whole foods but have been processed and ultimately stripped of their fiber and nutrients. Simple sugars include candy and sugar-sweetened beverages that are basically a carb in it’s simplest form that is completely lacking in nutrients. Both of these “bad” carbs are labeled as such because of the impact they have on your body and your blood sugar. You see, refined carbs and simple sugars are basically short chains of carbon molecules that require almost no processing in our system so the sugars go directly into our bloodstream. This can cause a major spike in blood sugar followed by a major crash. This crash zaps us of all of our energy and leaves us hungry and looking for more carbs. And all of this happens without providing us any nutrients whatsoever!


Good carbs are usually referring to whole food-based carbohydrates, which are unrefined plant foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies. Because these foods are unrefined, they still contain all of their natural fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which makes them nutrient powerhouses. These ‘good’ carbs or complex carbs are called such because they are longer, more complex chains of carbon molecules that take much longer to break down in the body, which prevents the blood sugar spikes and drops that you see with simple carbs. Ultimately these complex carbs provide a slow release of energy for the body while providing it with much needed nutrients. This benefit primarily comes from the FIBER….


Fiber is the part of a whole grain food that our bodies can’t digest. But don’t let that idea fool you—the fiber still does all sorts of wonderful things for our bodies! The blood sugar benefit we find from complex carbs is due to the fiber which slows the digestive process and ultimately the release of sugar into our bloodstream. In addition to this blood sugar benefit, fiber is a goldmine for our bodies in numerous other ways. It decreases our risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, it can help lower cholesterol, it promotes good gut bacteria which reduces our bodies inflammation, it boosts our immunity, AND it helps us feel fuller longer, preventing us from overeating! Fiber is the bomb—-and we get it from carbs!


Like most food, carbs in their natural whole-food form are a wonderful source of nutrients and energy for our bodies. They manage our blood sugar while keeping us full and satiated. And they do all of this while lowering our risk for chronic disease. So, skip the processed, refined junk food and focus on whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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