Carbs often get a bad rap, especially in the weight loss realm, but there are healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs, and good carbs are essential to our health. They’re high in fibre and nutrients, allowing us to digest food more slowly, plus they help manage blood sugar levels after meals. They also help us sustain energy, maintain a healthy weight, improve our metabolism and boost brain and nervous system function. Unhealthy carbs, on the other hand, have been stripped of almost all fibre, vitamins and minerals. They’re pretty much empty calories and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. If you’re wondering the difference in healthy carbs vs unhealthy carbs, you’ve come to the right place. Check out the foods to eat and avoid, plus recipes to add to your roster!
What Are Carbs & Why Are They Important?
Carbs – fibre, starches and sugars – are your body’s main source of energy. Your body breaks down carbs into glucose (or blood sugar), which is the main source of fuel for your body’s cells, tissues and organs. Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver or muscles for later use. Carbs provide many important nutrients and help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles and central nervous system. They’re one of three main macronutrients, the others being protein and fat, and all are essential to your overall health. Eliminating carbs from your diet can leave you feeling sluggish, having heart challenges and increase your risk of certain cancers. However, not all carbs are good carbs, and some are better for you than others.
Healthy Carbs vs Unhealthy Carbs: What’s The Difference?
Healthy carbs, also called complex carbs, are made up of mostly whole food sources. They’re higher in fibre, vitamins and nutrients compared to refined or simple carbs, and can help you lose weight. Carbs promote the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone in the brain, helping to boost your mood. Complex carb-rich foods are also high in soluble fibre, which is good for your heart. The high fibre content of carbs also helps you stay full for longer and aids in healthy digestion, which can help prevent weight gain and promote weight loss.
Unhealthy carbs, on the other hand, are made mostly of ingredients that have been processed and refined. They lack nutrients and cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, and only make you feel full for a short time period. Blood sugar levels drop around an hour or two after eating a meal high in refined carbs, which triggers hunger and cravings. Cravings can often lead to overeating and weight gain. Unhealthy carbs can also result in inflammation.
How Many Carbs Should You Consume?
The amount of carbs you consume on a daily basis depends on factors such as your age, sex, health and if you’re trying to lose or gain weight. Generally, you should be getting around 45 to 65% of your calories from carbs each day. So, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, around 900 to 1,300 of those should be from carbs. That’s between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Of course, this should mostly be made up of healthy carbs.
20 Healthy Carbs to Add to Your Diet
4. Whole wheat bread
5. Brown rice
7. Sweet potatoes
12. Tart cherries
18. Kidney beans
15 Unhealthy Carbs to Avoid
1. White bread
2. White pasta
3. White rice
7. Cakes and pastries
11. Pizza dough
12. Sweetened yogurt
15. Artificial sweeteners
40 Healthy Carb Recipes & Snacks
1. Rainbow Chard with Chickpeas | Delicious
2. Sweet Potato and Corn Salad | Taste
3. Spinach, Sweet Potato and Lentil Dhal | BBC Good Food
4. Lentil and Brown Rice Salad | Delicious
5. Mediterranean Chickpea Quinoa Bowl | Eating Well
6. Crispy Roasted Chickpeas | Love & Lemons
7. Broccoli and Peanut Soba Noodles | Olive Magazine
8. Veggie-Loaded Whole Wheat Pasta Bake | Beautiful Eats and Things
9. Sweet Potato Snack Bowl | Flora and Vino
10. Tamari and maple Glazed Chicken Breast with Ginger Quinoa | Delicious
11. Vegan Shepherd’s Pie | Eating Well
12. Hummus Avocado Toast | Self
13. Healthy Mexican Fried Rice | Taste
14. Roasted Mushroom and Haloumi Salad with Crispy Lentils | Delicious
15. Easy Black Bean Dip | Eating Bird Food
16. Chickpea and Potato Curry | Eating Well
17. Pan-Fried Chickpea Pizzas | Delicious
18. Stuffed Baked Sweet Potatoes | Taste
19. Brown Rice Shrimp Bowl with Tomato and Avocado | Eating Well
20. Oatmeal Energy Balls | Well Plated
21. Banana Berry Oatmeal | Oats Everyday
22. Sichuan Beef and Buckwheat Stir Fry | Taste
23. Lemon-Herb Salmon with Caponata and Farro | Eating Well
24. Warm Red Rice, Herb and Salmon Salad | Olive Magazine
25. Epic Baba Ganoush | Cookie and Kate
26. Turkey Picadillo Chilli with Quinoa | Healthy Seasonal Recipes
27. Pumpkin Chilli | The Pioneer Woman
28. Curried Cauliflower Quinoa Salad | The Modern Proper
29. Vegan Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Soup | Cookie and Kate
30. Southwest Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Mango and Avocado | Healthy Seasonal Recipes
31. Hydrating Super Green Smoothie | One Green Planet
32. Mexican-Spiced Vegetable Quinoa | Jessica Gavin
33. Roasted Cauliflower Hummus Bowls | Pinch of Yum
34. Roasted Broccoli and Chickpea Lemon Pasta | Making Thyme for Health
35. Broccoli Noodle Soup | One Green Planet
36. Garlicky White Bean and Spinach Quesadillas | Clean Food Dirty Girl
37. Kale, Mushroom and Potato Tortilla | Green Kitchen Story
38. Jerk Lentils with Coconut Rice and Fried Bananas | One Green Planet
39. Green Lentil Dal Makhani | Happy Veggie Kitchen
40. Thai Kale Salad with Peanut Sauce | One Green Planet
Carbs are an important part of a healthy diet, but it’s essential you get most of your carbs from healthy, whole food sources, rather than refined and processed carbs. Use this list and these recipes to guide you.
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