Everybody should consume carbohydrates, but in moderation. The type of carbohydrates that you eat is also as important. You shouldn’t be eating cookies and cakes to get the daily recommended serving, for instance. Keep reading to find out which carbs you should put on your dinner plate, as well as which ones to stay away from.

Carbs are a vital component of any healthy diet. However, it would help if you were mindful that they aren’t all created the same way. This begs the question – how can you separate good carbs from bad ones? The answer, ironically enough, is both complex and straightforward.

Here’s what you should keep in mind, as far as carbohydrates are concerned. The information below will help you make smarter decisions about which ones to incorporate into your regimen.

Carbohydrates – Complex and Simple

Carbohydrates – or “carbs,” for short, are the body’s primary energy source. They are a crucial component of a properly-balanced diet.

There are a few carbohydrate types to pick from: starches, fiber, and sugars. These are “complex” or “simple” carbohydrates because of their overall chemical makeup, as well as what the body uses them for. However, because food contains different carbohydrates, it may be challenging to determine what is healthy and what isn’t.

Simple carbs are comprised of easily digestible sugars, which are an essential energy source. Some sugar is produced naturally, like the ones found in milk and fruit. Processed or refined sugar is usually found in baked goods, soda, and candy. Sugar added to packaged foods may be listed as one of several unique names, such as honey, sucrose, trehalose, malt syrup, maltose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, corn sweetener, and brown sugar, among others. The FDA has mandated nutrition labels to help consumers identify the quantity of extra sugar in each serving of a product. This information will be found right under the sugar count total.

Complex carbs, which are usually found in legumes, starchy vegetables, and whole grains, contain long sugar molecule chains. These carbohydrates take longer for our bodies to process and utilize. As a result, the energy you have remains consistent.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs aren’t necessarily bad for you. The source of the food ultimately determines whether it is healthy for you or not. For example, vegetables and fruits are a terrific source of essential minerals and vitamins necessary for optimal health. They contain natural, simple carbs that are comprised of mostly basic sugars.

However, vegetables and fruits are not like other food types under the “simple” carb umbrella. Fiber that is found in vegetables and fruits modify the ways our bodies break down sugar, which subsequently slows digestion down. This makes them behave the same way complex carbohydrates do.

Simple carbs to put limits on include the following:

You are welcome to keep eating simple carbs occasionally. They shouldn’t be your primary source of carbohydrates.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs are considered to be “good,” as they contain sugars that the body breaks down slowly. As such, minimal quantities of sugar will be released, and when it is, it will be more consistent, as opposed to a roller coaster of energy spikes. This will help you get through the day much more efficiently.

Complex carbohydrate foods tend to have more fiber, minerals, and vitamins than simple carbohydrate food, assuming you are selecting whole grains instead of processed options. For instance, whole grains that come in the form of oats, corn, barley, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat flour provide you with more nutrients in comparison to processed grains (baked goods, white rice, bread, pasta, and white flour-made foods, to name a few).

Nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates will be a key addition to any balanced and healthy diet. Some examples include the following:

Ingredient labels should be scanned for certain foods, such as pasta and bread, to ensure that they are made with whole grains. Such packaged foods will contain the least amount of extra sugar. The package should be looked over, so you understand precisely what you are paying for. If the very first ingredient happens to be whole oat flour and/or whole wheat flour, the food is likely a complex carb.

When you are trying to determine if an individual carbohydrate source is bad or good, keep the following in mind – the more sugar it contains, and the fewer amounts of minerals, vitamins, and fiber it has, the worse it will be for you.

Glycemic Index

Defining carbohydrates as either complex or simple is one approach to classifying them. Dietitians and nutritionists use different concepts to help people make choices about the carbohydrates they consume.

The GI (glycemic index) of food essentially informs you about how high someone’s blood sugar could potentially rise to (as well as how quickly the rise will happen). The individual’s blood sugar levels will increase after they consume a carb-containing food (in comparison to consuming pure sugar). High GI foods happen to be much easier to digest. They will stimulate a quick blood sugar spike. Lower GI foods are digested a lot slower.

Knowing what a GI is for a specific food can establish how the carbohydrates in said food will impact blood sugar levels. However, that does not necessarily define food as healthy or unhealthy. Cantaloupe, watermelon, and similar fruits contain high glycemic index levels, even though they are beneficial for you. To find out what kind of GI a food has, visit the international glycemic index database online.

Taking this approach a step further, keep your eyes open for a food’s glycemic load. It plays a key role in GI, as well as the number of carbohydrates a specific food has. To establish the food’s glycemic load, multiply its GI number by that food’s carbohydrate amount per serving. Then divide that number by 100.

An amount of 10 or lower is considered to be low GL. Medium GL ranges between 11 and 19. 20 and higher are labeled as high GL. For instance, a bagel (plain) has a 72 GI and a 25 GL. Bread (whole-wheat) has a 69 GI and a 9 GL. The impact carbohydrates have on your blood sugar after consuming snacks, or entire meals can be compared using GL. By comparison, a food’s GI will only tell you about a single type of food.

If a particular food contains carbohydrates with a significantly high GI number, it wouldn’t have that big of an effect if the quantity of carbs is low. For example, watermelon has an 80 GI but only a 5 GL. As sweet as it tastes, it is mostly comprised of water.

Ultimately, carbs aren’t unhealthy for you. Complex and simple carbohydrates are essential for any healthy diet. It would be best if you were practical about the types of carbohydrates that you consume. Desserts low in nutrients should be skipped entirely—factor in the amounts of fiber and sugar in each food you consider eating. Try to consume a good portion of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to give your body the energy it requires each day.