Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Good carbohydrates are those that provide lasting energy, fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. This is in contrast to bad carbohydrates, which are often highly processed foods that contain a lot of simple sugars, few healthy nutrients and/or too many unhealthy nutrients. Good carbohydrates are found in many sources of minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
The main component of all carbohydrates is some form of sugar. Sugar is the body’s most basic form of energy. When a person eats food that contains carbohydrates, the digestive system typically breaks it down and pulls the sugar into the blood stream where it can be sent to the rest of the body’s cells.
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While all carbohydrates provide this energy, the body processes different carbohydrates in different ways. In general, good carbohydrates that are full of fiber and more complex forms of sugar take longer to digest, and result in a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream to provide lasting energy. Bad carbohydrates that contain simple forms of sugar, on the other hand, typically cause blood sugar to rise higher and more rapidly. This can produce a burst of energy, but is often accompanied by a crash as the body burns through the sugar more quickly.
In addition to helping provide a stable source of energy, good carbohydrates also often provide the body with needed fiber. Fiber can help lower cholesterol and aid in digestion. Due to the fact that it makes people feel full, it can also help with weight loss or minimize weight gain. Other important components of many forms of good carbohydrates include folate and vitamins B, C and E.
One of the most common ways to know what foods are good carbohydrates is to look at how processed the foods are. In general, the less refined they are, the more likely they are to be good carbohydrates. For example, many whole fruits and vegetables, such as apples, oranges, grapes, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, carrots and celery are considered good carbohydrates. Beans, including varieties like navy, lima, black and garbanzo, and minimally processed grains, such as rolled oats, whole wheat bread, barley and brown rice, are also generally high in fiber and nutrients, and therefore, good carbohydrates.
For comparison, bad carbohydrates are generally those that have to go through a lot of processing that removes nutrients and/or adds too many unhealthy ones, such as white flour, which is generally made from wheat that’s been stripped of its fibrous germ and bleached, and French fries, which are made from potatoes that are peeled, fried in oil and salted.