What are carbs?

Carbs (also called carbohydrates) are one of the three macronutrients. They are the body’s main source of energy. The majority of carbs get broken down into glucose, which is used by every cell in your body as a source of energy.

Did you know that the consumption of a diet rich in carbs doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain, but eating too many bad carbs can?


So what are good and bad carbs? Let’s take a look.

Good carbs

The good carbs are also referred to as slow carbs or low glycemic carbs because they are carbs that provide a slow release of glucose and therefore will not spike your insulin or blood sugar levels. These are largely vegetables and fruits. Nuts and seeds also contain carbs.

The good carbs are also rich in phytochemicals and fibre. For example eating over 800 calories of broccoli or spinach will not spike your blood sugar or increase insulin levels but it will fill your body with fibre and phytochemicals.

Every colourful plant food is rich in phytochemicals.

The phytochemicals can protect against various diseases. A study published in 2003 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is linked with the reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cataracts and many more illnesses and this is attributed to the phytochemicals present in the fruits and vegetables.

Resistant starch is another good carb that won’t spike your blood sugar. It doesn’t get digested, it reaches the colon where it acts as a prebiotic providing food for the good bacteria in your gut. It also improves insulin sensitivity. Resistant starch is found in green bananas, plantain, cooked and cooled potatoes, cooked and cooled rice, various legumes and raw oats

The Bad Carbs

good and bad carbs
The bad carbs are also referred to as high glycemic carbs or refined carbohydrates. These carbs are digested very quickly and will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. These include white pasta, grains, fruit juices, white bread, white rice, biscuits, sweets and other processed foods. The natural fibre has been stripped out of these foods.

The further it takes to get the food from the farm to your fork, the more processed the food is. Refined carbohydrates have been linked with various diseases including type 2 diabetes and obesity.

A study published in 2013 in the Diabetes Care Journal suggested that diets with high glycemic carbs increase blood sugar and insulin levels which increased glucose intolerance and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Note that whole grains can also cause spikes in your blood sugar.


All plant food are carbs. Preferably 80% of your carb intake should be vegetables especially non-starchy vegetables, don’t forget to include the healthy fats and good quality protein.

So these are good and bad carbs. The good carbs provide fibre, antioxidants, food for the good bacteria in your gut and will not spike your insulin or blood sugar levels whereas the bad carbs have all the natural fibre stripped out and will influence your blood sugar so eat the right carbs to avoid spikes in your insulin levels.

1) Liu H R (2003) Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78: 5175-5205
2) Grehom C L, enwood D C, Threapleton D E, Evans C E L, Cleghom C L, Nykjaer C, Woodhead C, Burley V J (2013) Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, Carbohydrates, Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 36: 4166-4171

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