Carbs have a love-hate relationship with a lot of people. They're a necessary part of our diet - even an overly-restrictive keto diet. But there is a big difference between good carbs vs bad carbs.
Bad carbs increase inflammation, cause weight gain, make you more bloated and generally unhealthy.
Good carbs decrease inflammation, promote weight loss and keep your health in check.
Here's the breakdown: good carbs vs bad carbs
When we talk about good vs bad carbs, the big thing we're really trying to distinguish is the difference between refined and unrefined carbohydrates. But we also want to know which carbs have the most sugar. Here's the gist.
Refined vs Unrefined Carbs
Refined carbohydrates are stripped of most of their nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They breakdown very quickly in our body, spike our blood sugar levels and can force our body to store fat faster.
Unrefined carbohydrates are usually in their natural (or closer to natural) form. These unrefined carbs contain more fiber and almost always contain more nutrients than their refined counterpart. They digest slower, have a lesser impact on our blood sugar levels, and don't store belly fat as readily.
You probably know the difference between a refined vs unrefined carbohydrate. Strawberry licorice or potato chips are refined carbohydrates. Fresh strawberries and fresh potatoes are unrefined carbohydrates.
There's a continuum of refinement when it comes to carbs. Most of it is just common sense. Let's stick with strawberries.
You know that strawberry licorice is refined and fresh strawberries are unrefined, right? But what if we looked at homemade strawberry jam vs store-bought strawberry jam? If you guessed that the homemade strawberry jam is less refined, you're right.
Just about anything with a greater shelf life - with the exception of raw honey, rice, and a few other things - is refined.
High vs Low Sugar Carbohydrates
Another thing you need to think about is whether or not the carbs you're eating have a lot of sugar in them. The concentration of sugar doesn't necessarily really settle the debate between good vs bad carbs, but it's something we should all be aware of as even the best carbohydrates can be very high in sugar.
For example, bananas are a good, natural fruit. We certainly shouldn't be afraid of eating them, but they're higher on the glycemic index, the barometer of sugar in foods, than a bowl of raspberries.
When you look at the list below, you might be surprised to see some very good foods on the middle list. The amount of sugar in those foods is probably the reason why.
Usually, high sugar carbohydrates are pretty obvious because they taste sweeter.
Then there are the outright bad-for-you high sugar carbohydrates like store-bought cookies, candy, and soda.
So where do the carbs you love stack up? Read through the list and get to know what's great, good and bad. At the very bottom is a list of a few of my favorite recipes that include good carbs!
The List: Good Carb vs Bad Carb
I like to set the bar high for good carbs. After all, we only have this one body so we better take care of it.
If I'm going to load it up with food, I'm aiming to be good 90% of the time. The other 10% is fun!
- GREAT carbs you can eat anytime
Eat these throughout the day as often as you like with any meal. Try to eat 5 servings of the "V" foods every day.
- GOOD carbs are healthy enough, but better not to overdo
Eat these foods more sparingly as they're higher in sugar, or convert to sugar quicker in your body. Aim to eat one serving of these foods one time a day.
- BAD carbs you should avoid
All of these foods contain high amounts of sugar and are higher on the glycemic index, forcing blood sugar levels to jump higher, storing more belly fat. For all intents and purposes, these foods translate directly to sugar and should be avoided whenever possible
You may be thinking, Crap! Everything I eat falls under the Bad Carb list. I can't do this. It will be too hard. There aren't enough good foods to eat. Or something like that.
Take it easy. There are plenty of awesomely great things to eat that are on the good side of carbs. I'll list a bunch of recipes for you at the bottom to sink your teeth into. I'll also link to a few meal plans you can follow just to make life easier.
Good Carb vs Bad Carb Exceptions
If you're like me, it's nice to splurge once in a while. on Mother's Day, for example, I went to an Italian restaurant that makes a really good homemade baked bread. I ate some and loved it! Oh, and I had a glass of wine, too. It didn't have any lasting effect on my body because 90% of the time I'm eating from the Good Carbs 'eat anytime' list.
If you're over sugar, following these lists should not be a problem for you. But if you crave sugar all the time, it may be difficult for you to ween yourself to the Good Carb Only list.
That said, once you're there, you should have no problem splurging once in a while with a good meal, or even a heavy dessert. Give your body a 10% buffer for splurge foods!
Despite the spontaneity that we humans love, our health comes from consistency and rituals. Making good choices day in and day out help in a number of ways. Aim for your splurge day to be one day a week.
Getting more good carbs in a balanced diet
Since no two people should eat exactly the same foods, we all might need different amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Everyone should eat carbohydrates - the good kind!
Chances are, if you're eating bad carbs to the point where you've put on a few pounds, you're probably an apple shape as you most definitely put that weight on in your belly. Sugar does that.
But if you happen to be a different body type, you can choose from the four options below!
The Body Types
- If you're an apple shape body type with extra fat through your belly area, you should follow this apple shape meal plan based around a higher protein diet.
- If you're a pear shape body type with extra fat through your hips and thighs, you should follow this pear shape meal plan based around a lower-fat diet with more carbohydrates.
- If you're an hourglass shape body type and you distribute your fat fairly evenly throughout your whole body, you, too, should follow this hourglass shape meal plan, which is lower in fat diet and focuses on when you eat throughout the day.
- If you're an inverted pyramid shape body type with broader shoulders and tend to carry a lot more upper body fat - especially through the upper arms, back, and chest, then follow the inverted pyramid meal plan as you need to pay attention to things like sodium and the types of protein you're eating.
- Are you deep in the trenches of peri-menopause, or perhaps menopausal? The get a download of my menopause meal plan. This plan will help you manage your hormones and lose weight.