Even if you’re aiming for a high-fat, low-carb diet, you’re going to be taking in some carbohydrates — even the strictest ketogenic dieters need a few vegetables to round out their nutritional profiles. As you increase the number of carbohydrates you allow yourself in a day, the problem of discerning quality carbohydrates from bad ones becomes increasingly important. Keeping to the healthiest vegetables as a minor side for one or two meals is fairly easy; doing so when a large portion of your caloric intake comes from carbs is not. Today, we’ll be talking about what makes a good carb good and a bad carb bad and where to look for each kind.
Good Carbs Vs. Bad Carbs
For most applications, complex carbohydrates reign supreme for healthiness. These are carbohydrates made up of chains of sugar molecules, which your body then works to break down over time — providing longer lasting, consistent fuel. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates often contain high amounts of fiber, as well, making them more filling and better for your general health. There are a few noteworthy sources of these good carbs:
- Whole grains. Look for real whole grains, not super-processed whole grains that are so worked over that they’re as easily digested as simple flour.
- Green vegetables. There are vegetables of other colors worth eating, of course, but green ones are reliably good for you — and packed with nutritional goodies.
- Starches. Yams, brown rice, beans, lentils and other foods of a starchy nature can be assumed to be complex. Just watch out for borderline foods — white rice and corn may be starchy, but they still aren’t good options compared to the myriad other options you can put on your plate.
Essentially, bad carbs either are forms of sugar or are so simplistic that your body processes them similarly. The specifics of fructose versus sucrose versus glucose may be interesting to know for scientific reasons, but speaking honestly, they’re all best to avoid. If there happens to be fructose in a nice, highly fibrous apple, that’s still bad carbohydrates — just wrapped in a nice package with some nutritional value and fiber.
Now, there are some caveats. If you need the energy provided in the short term by simple carbohydrates because you’re either about to or have already exhausted yourself with some physical task, then go right ahead. And it’s unlikely anyone ever got fat from apples — but they might have from bananas, watermelons or white rice.
Be wary of these sources:
All nutritive sweeteners. If it’s something you use to make other foods and drinks sweet, and it isn’t a nonnutritive option such as sucralose, stevia or aspartame, it’s going to be a simple sugar. High fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, table sugar, molasses and honey are all bad news.
Processed carbs. When you take a healthy carbohydrate and work it over, you often end up with a result that your body breaks down quite similarly to the way it breaks down sugars. Grains reduced to a fine, fine powder before being made into bread can cause similar glycemic reactions to straight-up table sugar. This is also true for chips, jams and other junk foods. Just because their original carbohydrate source was healthy doesn’t mean the end result maintains those benefits.