Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

It’s not enough to just cut out added sugars from your diet! Bad carbs like rice, potatoes and pasta are just as much of a health risk as eating too many sugary snacks.

Since January, we have dedicated more than half of our blog space to raising awareness about the harmful effects of added sugars. Our War on Sugar series has demonstrated that added sugars are the primary cause of the type 2 diabetes pandemic.

But as many of us struggle to navigate through a Western diet that is saturated with added sugars, there is the equally threatening and predominant "Public Enemy #2 – Bad Carbohydrates."

Bad carbs are highly-glycemic – that is they raise blood sugar levels. Examples of bad carbs include foods we have perceived to be "healthy," like potatoes, rice (white and brown), most pastas and even watermelon. The prevalence of these foods in our diet presents a huge risk for type 2 diabetics, those with prediabetic conditions and the millions more who rely on these foods for what they believe to be a balanced diet.

The prevailing acceptance of these bad carbs as "healthy" is largely attributable to the Food Guide Pyramid that the USDA has been publishing since the 1970s. Heavily influenced by the powerful food and agricultural lobbies, the Food Guide Pyramid prioritizes those food groups that are subsidized industries, like dairy, corn and wheat. The end result is a recommended daily diet that promotes high carbs and low fat items.i

The problem with the "high-carb, low-fat diet" is two-fold. 

iStock-539682398 healthy vs unhealthy.jpgFirst, not all fats are bad for you. 

On the contrary, monounsaturated fats that can be found in a variety of foods ranging from nuts to butter are good for you. Read our recent blog to see how good fats can improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Consuming these dietary fats can also aide in weight loss!

The "low-fat" products that have been marketed the last 40 years are made with hydrogenated fats that increase levels of dangerous trans-fats, which are bad for both our heart and our cholesterol.

Second, the high carbs that the Food Guide Pyramid promotes (6 to 11 servings per day) do not differentiate between “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”ii 

It is important to understand the difference. At breakfast, bad carbs exist in many cereals, toasts, bagels, English muffins and even oatmeal. At lunch and dinner, there are French fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, rice, pasta, beans and lentils, pizza dough, buns, tortillas, taco shells and corn that are all rich in starch. It goes without saying that many snack foods are very starchy, like pretzels, crackers, rice cakes, potato chips and granola bars.

Bad carbs/starches can raise blood sugar levels as much as added sugars do!

The starch in bad carbs is made of a long molecule of glucose that when digested is broken down into sugar. Thus, eating a lot of starchy foods can create large variations in blood sugar levels, causing them to rise quickly and drop. Such fluctuations are associated with varying energy levels, hunger and cravings that compel us to overeat.iii Just like with added sugars, there is an addictive element to bad carbs, which explains why we are hungry for the same starchy foods an hour after we have eaten them. For those who have diabetes or prediabetes, eating these bad carbs regularly can heighten blood sugar levels and make it more difficult to manage your condition.

iStock-663845678 weight gain.jpgBad carbs contribute to weight gain as much, if not more than added sugars.

Bad carbs have four calories per gram and they can be addictive, especially the processed and refined starches. They make you eat more while you load on the extra pounds. Just like with added sugars, excess bad carbs are easily transformed into fat, especially for those with higher insulin levels. Even with good carbs, we have to watch our portion sizes! Eating larger portions of any carb – good or bad – causes blood sugar levels to soar.

Reducing or eliminating bad carb consumption IS possible!

It may be hard to do at first, but reducing or eliminating bad carbs is worth trying, as the benefits to your health are almost immediate.

  • Start by cutting out all processed foods, as well as the pre-packaged foods from the supermarket that are made from refined grains.
  • Get your good carbs from fruit, milk, nuts and seeds.

Stick with this no-starch regimen for just a few weeks to see noticeable differences in your energy levels – and even your weight! 

Reference the Glycemic Index, which gives specific foods a numeric score based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels.  
A good rule to follow is to choose carbs with a glycemic index score of 55 or less. Avoid any foods (which are mostly the bad carb starches) with a score of 70 or above.iv

glycemic index.jpg

Just like with added sugars, fighting "Public Enemy #2" starts by saying no to bad carbs. We owe it to ourselves to focus on improved outcomes and choose good carbs over bad. Let’s turn the Food Pyramid on its head!

 Read More About Living Healthy!


Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

Subscribe to Blog Updates