July 25, 2022

Are Carbohydrates Bad for You?

From pasta and tacos to sandwiches and stir-fried rice, carbohydrates (carbs for short) are go-to foods for a lot of us. But are they healthy? Or should you jump on the low-carb diet train? And what are carbs, anyway? We’ve got answers. Let’s dig in.

Some carbs are better than others

We’d love to give you one simple rule for carbs, good or bad. Say, “Avoid carbs at all costs!” Or “They’re the best thing since sliced bread, which is mostly carbs!” But it’s not that simple. 

Carbohydrates are your main source of energy. And you need energy. But there are different types of carbs. Eating healthy ones can help control your weight. Too many of the wrong ones can throw your blood sugar out of whack and lead to high cholesterol.

Simple isn’t always good

Simple carbohydrates are foods like sugar and white flour pasta, bagels, and bread. Your body breaks them down easily, so they’re a quick energy source. If you plan on burning that energy, that can be OK. 

But loading up on simple carbs spikes your blood sugar. Keep doing that day after day, year after year, and it’s not just that you’ll see extra pounds add up. You’re also more likely to have problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Complex is where it’s at

Complex carbohydrates are, well, more complex in their structure. Take starches. They’re found in foods like beans and lentils, whole-grains, and fruits and vegetables. It takes your body longer to break them down, so your blood sugar stays even and you feel more full. And they usually have more vitamins and minerals.  

Fiber is a complex carb superstar

Fiber doesn’t provide energy but it aids in digestion, keeps you regular, and helps prevent high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. And you probably don’t get enough of it — the average American gets less than half the 30 grams of fiber they need daily. 

To up your fiber game, focus on eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Try these recipes to get you started.

So…carbs aren’t BAD?

Correct! In fact, bad vs. good isn’t the best way to think about it. It’s more about what’s healthier for you. Generally, that means more complex carbs. Think about using more whole grain products instead of refined ones.

And try to avoid added sugars — check food labels and stay away from foods with high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, dextrose, and molasses on the label. 

Healthy carbs all day long

If you want to make some changes, you don’t have to do it all at once. Maybe pick a certain carb that you want to swap in, like whole grain bread for white bread in your sandwiches. Or try to make a certain meal healthier. Over time, you’ll create small habits that add up to big changes. Here are some ideas for healthy carbs any time of day. 

Choose a whole wheat English muffin over a bagel. Or oatmeal instead of sugary cereal. Or go savory with a veggie omelet.

Snacks and drinks
Ditch the chips in favor of homemade popcorn. Dip those whole-grain crackers in hummus instead of ranch dip. And choose sugar-free or low-sugar drinks like water,  seltzer, tea, or black coffee. Forget the fruit juice, too (eat a piece of fruit instead). 

Lunch and dinner
Sub in whole wheat or chickpea pasta for white pasta. Explore quinoa, barley, and brown rice instead of white rice. And spice things up with cinnamon and ginger to add more flavor.

Opt for fruit, greek yogurt, or dark chocolate over cookies and candy. When you bake, swap unsweetened applesauce for sugar (reduce the liquid in your recipe by ¼ cup).

Think big picture

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when trying to figure out what’s healthy and what’s not. Try to zoom out once in a while and keep it simple. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Split the other half between healthy proteins (shout out to beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds) and whole grains. You get healthy carbs automatically and a balanced diet to boot.

Your Firefly care team is here to help

If you need support with healthier eating, your care team is ready and waiting! Book a visit today or speak with your health guide to get personalized tips. Not a member yet? Get started by signing up below, taking our quiz, or calling us at (855) 869-9284 to see if our continuous, coordinated care model is right for you.

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