Carbohydrates: good, bad or both?

The word “carb” has become synonymous with sugar. It’s almost a dirty word. This is why many people have this ‘carbs are bad m-kay” mentality.

In fact, people the world over are cutting out all carbs in the name of health. You don’t need to though. You really can have your wholemeal bread & eat it too!


what exactly is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates can be divided into 2 categories based on their chemical composition: simple (sugars) & complex (fibre & starches). How they behave in our bodies differs depending on which category they fall into.


complex carbohydrates

These are starches and fibre & are really important to both energy levels and good digestion.

Starches are found in cereal products, legumes (beans/lentils), & root vegetables (potatoes). They often supply the major energy-producing component in most of our meals.

Generally speaking, if you stick to wholemeal varieties (the word ‘whole’ must be in the ingredients list), these items can make a great addition to any healthy diet.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid things that have added sugar wherever you can. Opt for things with a short ingredients list as this ensures foods are as close to their natural state as possible.

Dietary fibre is present in all whole plant foods. There are a couple of types of fibre & these are treated differently in the body but we don’t neeew d to go into that here.

dietary fibre

Essentially, while dietary fibre doesn’t provide any energy, it is incredibly important for digestion & nutrient absorption. They also make you feel full & well satisfied.

That’s right people, eat your fruit and veggies!


simple carbohydrates

Now this is where the water gets a little muddy.

These are sugars. They are fast burning energy used by the body for fueling both cognitive and physical functioning.

There are many forms of sugars – the ones you’ve got to worry about are the natural (eg: found in milk) & the processed (eg: found in flavoured milk).

The good’uns. . . .

For the most part, if you eat food with natural sugars in its whole form you are unlikely to be able to fit enough in your stomach to over-do the sugar. They are just too filling.

natural sugars

If they are eaten as part of a balanced diet, these sugars provide fast energy for the brain resulting in great mental clarity. Brilliant, natural brain foods!

The not-so-good’uns. . .

Processed foods/sugars are really easy to over-consume.

These are the sugars you find in the packets in the supermarkets or in processed foods (eg: pastries, confectionary, soft drinks/sodas, convenience meals). These items really pack in the sugar, often tasting fantastic as a result.

Unfortunately for the sweet-tooths out there, they are also not great for your health. In fact, more often than not they are atrociously unhealthy.

They provide incredibly fast-burning energy which causes huge spikes in blood sugar which are quickly followed by huge drops. Excessive energy is also stored as fat so not only do you feel pretty crappy after a sugar crash, but you also gain weight if you eat these items regularly. As we all know, excess bodily fat comes with its own litany of health impacts so you’re getting a double whammy here.


so. . .are carbs good, bad or both?

The problem is that the processed/refined sugars – which you now know is just one little subset of carbohydrates – is what people are often referring to when they use the word ‘carbs.

For the most part, when eaten as close to the unprocessed food as possible & as part of a balanced diet, carbs are good m-kay.

You can even incorporate some of those sugary sweets into your balanced diet as a ‘sometimes’ food & not fall into an unhealthy heap never to recover again.

However, when eaten regularly in their highly processed form sugars contribute to all sorts of lifestyle diseases that can have a devastating effect on sufferers (eg: diabetes, obesity).

Carbohydrates are not bad, it is the way that processed sugars are saturating our diets that is bad. Even savoury foods are laced with these potent forms of sugar!

I will be going more into how to use the information provided on food packaging to make the healthiest choices in a future post but here are a few tips for steering clear of refined sugars.

Sticking to whole foods is the safest bet to ensuring the carbs you are eating are actually good for you.

If this is too much work which, lets face it it probably is, make sure you are eating the wholemeal versions of cereals, pastas & grains.

Check the ingredients lists – if sugar (anything ending in an ‘ose’, eg: glucose) features near the top, put it down & go for something that doesn’t have added sugar in it.

Use the nutrition panel to compare products and choose the one that has the least amount of sugars. Make sure you’re comparing the same amount of product though, not just the serving sizes. For example, here in Australia we have a per 100g section on every product which makes it easier to compare. Check out your countries packaging for something similar.

If you have any other great tips, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

I really hope you have found this post helpful & if you have any comments, questions or need clarification please leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy eating!







Kathryn Carter

I’m Kath, qualified nutritionist & personal trainer. I believe a personalised, flexibile approach to gaining physical & mental well-being is necessary for achieving sustainable lifestyle changes that support both these aspects of health. In the near future I will be offering a range of nutrition & lifestyle education services designed to gain the life my clients want in a way that works for them.


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