Ask a Nutritionist: How Do I Choose the Right Carbs?

June 24, 2015
by Elissa Goodman for Thrive Market
Ask a Nutritionist: How Do I Choose the Right Carbs?

I hear so much about healthy whole grains, but I don't really know why they're good for me. What's the difference between complex and simple carbs?

Carbs have been wrongfully labeled the enemy. I'm here to tell you that you can happily invite carbs into your diet. In fact, if you completely eliminate carbs, you will be doing more harm than good.

It's all about choosing the right carbs. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, providing fuel for our daily activities, and normal body functions.

Simple carbs are broken down rapidly, causing your blood sugar to spike. Although some fruits and vegetables are classified as simple carbs, they're naturally occurring and provide nutrients. Most simple carbs however, are made with highly processed, refined sugars. These sugars are often referred to as "empty calories" because they provide little nutritional value. Some classic examples you might recognize: soda, white bread, white rice, pastries, sugar, and high fructose corn syrups.

Complex carbs are longer chains of sugar molecules, which provide your body with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They do not cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to aggressively fluctuate, as energy is released more slowly. Some healthy, wholesome complex carbs to start eating include whole grains, lentils, beans, and a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

The holy grail of complex carbs really is the whole grains. Whole grains have not been processed and still contain all their naturally occurring nutrients. This means that all of the original nutrients found in the original grain or seed, get transferred to your body when you eat whole grains. Barley, buckwheat, millet, rye, quinoa, bulgur, oats, and wild rice are all great examples of these foods.

So don't be frightened by carbs. Just choose the right ones!

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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This article is related to: Diet, Food, Gluten-Free, Health, Nutrition, Vegan

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  • Vannis

    Carbs are... well, tricky little bastards. You have to be educated enough to know which ones to eat and when. The key for me was an eating plan in which your week consist of a few low carb or no (approaching zero) carb days followed by the high carbohydrate day. This way you can force your body to burn fat for energy rather than sugar. (more about carb cycling: ). Been using this method now for a 3 months - this really do help! I can lose weight, have plenty of energy and feel good. There is also a motivation thing, it can be easier to push through a low carb day when you know you have a higher carb day