Do You Know The Difference Between Good And Bad Carbohydrates? Here’s A List Of Foods That Contain Them

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Carbohydrates. Infographic © Image sources: see foot of page

You will often hear people talking about two different kinds of carbs – the good and the bad. There are carbohydrates that are easily metabolized by the body to be used up as energy – and carbohydrates that are less nutritious and do not get metabolized as well by the body. In order to have a healthy diet, you need to choose the right carbohydrates to include in your meals because they are your primary source of energy.

Carbohydrates are among the key nutrients our body needs to function. Carbohydrates come from food like bread, rice, and pasta, and make up the bulk of the body’s energy source. The carbs we include in our diet are converted into sugar, specifically glucose, which is used by our cells to perform their needed functions. Without glucose, the body’s cells starve – and eventually, start to malfunction and die. So forget about all the “no carbs” diet – this would be bad for you and do nothing else but starve your cells and make you unhealthy. The real challenge is to choose the right kind of carbohydrates. [1]

Simple vs. Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates can be classified in two ways – simple and complex. Complex carbs are dubbed “good carbs” and simple carbs are dubbed “bad carbs”. Complex carbs are considered “good” because our body takes a longer time to digest them; because of their long, complex chains. Because of this, the energy released is slower, more efficient, and better absorbed by the body. This kind of carbohydrate is recommended especially for people suffering from diabetes, because longer digestion of carbs reduces hyperglycemia or high blood sugar (a characteristic symptom of diabetes). Complex carbohydrates are also high in vitamins, minerals, and fibers – great for maintaining the immune system and improving digestion. [2]

The best sources of good carbs have been found to have low GI (glycemic index). The lower the glycemic index, the less a food item affects blood glucose and the longer you feel full. Examples of low glycemic foods are bran cereals, green vegetables, and root vegetables like sweet potato and yam. [3]

On the other hand, “bad carbs” or simple carbohydrates are made up of short, simple chains, which are easily broken down by the body to be used as energy. There are some “good” simple carbs, found in fruits and milk but the bad carbs are most commonly found in processed food and snacks like candy, soda, and chips. These simple sugars overload the body with glucose, causing hyperglycemia and an increased risk for metabolic problems and unhealthy weight gain. The most common sources of simple sugars are junk foods and these are typically void of any nutritional content, unlike complex carbohydrates. [4]

Simple sugars are typically high GI food items – food items like candy and soda cause a rapid increase in blood sugar upon consumption. However, high GI foods are not just found in snacks; food items like white bread, corn flakes, instant oatmeal, melons, and pineapples are part of the list. [3]

List Of Foods High In Good Carbohydrates:

The following food items are great sources of highly bioavailable carbohydrates. Make sure to include them in your diet! GI values are from the University of Sydney: [5]

1. Home-made oatmeal cookies

Home-baked oatmeal cookies are a great snack item to replaced store-bought candy bars and cookies. They have a glycemic index of 54 for a serving size of 25 grams.

2. Orange juice

Either eat your orange as is or juice it – either way its glycemic index of 40 (raw orange) and 46 (orange juice) makes it a great snack or a drink to pair with your meal. Oranges are likewise a great source of Vitamin C, which boosts your immune system. [6]

3. Grain products

Not all grain products have a low GI, so choose carefully. Spelt multigrain bread has a GI of 54. Most 100% whole grain breads have GIs of around 50. Brown rice is an excellent alternative to high GI white rice; it has a GI of 48 (other brands have GIs of 45 and 46) for 150 grams.

4. Apples

Apples have a GI of 40, the same as fresh oranges, for 120 grams. Other kinds of apples, specifically those that come from Denmark have an even lower GI of 28. Opt for apple slices as a snack instead of a snack bar. Apple juice, on the other hand, has GIs of 39 (unsweetened) and 44 (sweetened).

5. Baked potatoes

Potatoes are rather up there in terms of GI, with a baked white potato and margarine having a GI of 69. However, you can ditch the margarine or butter and bring the GI down to the 50s.

6. Carrots

If you want a side of antioxidants with your snack, take a pack of carrot sticks with you! Raw carrots have a GI of 35, even lower at 33 when they are boiled. Carrots are a great source of alpha and beta-carotene, nutrients that improve your sight, immune system, and even help fight cancer. [7]

7. Tomatoes

Tomato juice without any added sugar has a GI of 33, one of the lowest in this list. Raw tomatoes are even lower, with a GI of less than 15. Tomatoes are also known for their high lycopene content, a nutrient known for its ability to fight cancer. [8]

8. Raisins

Raisins have a moderate GI of 64, with certain brands like Sun Maid having a lower value of 54. You can pack a small container of raisins to munch on throughout the day.

9. Grapes

Grapes are another excellent snack option, with a GI of 43. Waltham Cross grapes have a higher GI of 59.

10. Bananas

Bananas are a great source of potassium, an electrolyte that contributes to the movement of our muscles (including muscles of the heart!) The GI of a banana is anywhere between 46 and 62, becoming higher the riper the banana.


[1] National Institutes of Health. Carbohydrates.

[2] National Institutes of Health. Complex carbohydrates.

[3] American Diabetes Association. Glycemic Index and Diabetes.

[4] National Institutes of Health. Simple carbohydrates.

[5] The University of Sydney. Glycemic Index.

[6] Schwager, J., et. al. (2015). Ascorbic acid modulates cell migration in differentiated HL-60 cells and peripheral blood leukocytes.

[7] Shebaby, W., et. al. (2015). Daucus carota Pentane-Based Fractions Suppress Proliferation and Induce Apoptosis in Human Colon Adenocarcinoma HT-29 Cells by Inhibiting the MAPK and PI3K Pathways.

[8] Wang, Y., et. al. (2016). Lycopene, tomato products and prostate cancer-specific mortality among men diagnosed with nonmetastatic prostate cancer in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort.

Infographic Image Sources:

Glucose Chain Structure –
Oatmeal Cookie –
Orange Juice –
Grain Products –
Apple –
Baked Butter –
Carrots –
Tomato –
Raisins –
Grapes –
Banana –

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