Is there even a difference?
When you hear the word “carb,” does it make you think of food that’s healthy and diet-friendly or do you think of food that should be avoided at all costs? Oh, how times have changed since the days of the food pyramid that placed bread/rice/pasta as the foundation of your diet! With the rules set by recent diet fads it’s no surprise carbs now have a negative reputation.
Do you know what rice, bread, carrots, sweet potatoes, black beans, cereal, and apples have in common? They’re all high in carbohydrates, but as you can see, they’re not all enemies of your diet. Your body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates for energy so here’s how you can know the difference between a good carb and a bad carb.
There are two types of carbs: simple and complex. Complex carbs are the kind of carb your body needs. Because they’re made of large molecules of sugar, they get digested slowly, providing a steady amount of energy to keep your blood sugar level steady. Complex carbs are also high in fiber. The easiest way to determine whether a carb is simple or complex is to look at its fiber content.
What’s so great about fiber? It not only reduces your risk of colon cancer and heart disease, but it’s a dieter’s friend because it fills you up and gives lasting energy. In other words, fiber-rich foods satisfy your appetite so you can eat less food to feel full. And less food equals fewer calories.
Examples of complex carbs include foods from plants such as whole-grain breads, pastas, and rice; and fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Simple carbs are the kind of carb to avoid because they’re made of small, easy-to-digest sugars that provide no nutritional value for your body and cause fluctuations in your blood sugar. Many simple carbs are low in fiber, high in calories, high in sugar, and have been processed to have their nutrients removed. They provide your body with quick energy that doesn’t last. This is a good thing if you’re about to run a race or play a soccer game, but not if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight.
Examples of simple carbs to limit or avoid include added sugars, candies, sweets, sodas, chips, potatoes (complex carbs that act like simple carbs), white bread, white rice, and white pasta. Eating these kinds of foods will fill you up for a little while and give a burst of energy, but the feelings of fullness will soon fade away. Besides being bad for your diet, a meal or snack of simple carbs can negatively affect your mood and energy level.
Picking the right kind of carbs to eat is as simple as choosing whole-grain breads, pastas, crackers, and rice over their refined, white alternatives, including beans in your diet, and eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
But knowing how many carbs to eat is also complex. Complex carbs provide needed energy, but when it comes to dieting, it’s always possible to have too much of a good thing. Energy that’s not used will be stored as fat, so it’s important to limit the amount of any kind of carbs you eat.