Healthy Carbs: Fact or Fiction?

Megan Segura

With so many new diets out there suggesting people limit their carb intake, we’ve gotten it into our heads that carbs are bad. Is it possible that there is such a thing as healthy carbs?

“Most people couldn’t tell me if a carb were ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ if I paid them,” says nutritionist Tina Ruggiero. “If you said rice, couscous and pizza dough were ‘bad,’ you are sorely mistaken. Carbs have gotten a bad rap for decades, and for the duration, I’ve told my clients that all carbohydrates can be prepared so they work with your body, in an effort to stay healthy. ”

Ruggiero continues, “First, it’s important to know that carbohydrates keep the body running efficiently. They’re the body’s (and the brain’s) very first choice for energy, preserving valuable muscle mass, when you need to perform your best—physically or mentally. Creating a list of ‘good’ carbs and ‘bad’ carbs is actually a huge disservice to the public. It instills food paranoia, and we have enough of that, already. Unfortunately, everyone wants to categorize things as ‘best’ or ‘worst,’ ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ They want instant results or a pill or potion to cure what ails. They want labels and instructions. There are none.”

How to Look at Carbs
Instead of labeling carbs as “good” or “bad,” Ruggiero says it’s better to understand the difference between complex and simple carbs. “High-fiber foods such as whole grain bread, cereals and legumes are considered complex carbohydrates. They’ve been shown to lower the risk of developing heart disease, certain forms of cancer and diabetes. Simple carbohydrates include honey, fruit, jam, jelly and brown sugar.”

Why You Should Eat Carbs
“Research has shown that thinner people tend to eat more carbs than those struggling with weight loss, so enjoying carbs may help you achieve the body you’ve always wanted. Make sure that 50% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. So, if you’re eating a 1,700/day diet, 850 of those calories should be from carbs (That’s 213 grams, for those who are counting.) Finally, half of your total grain consumption should come from whole grains, or complex carbohydrates, according to the USDA.”

Preparation Is Key
“Bottom line: It’s all about how you prepare carbohydrates which make them good or bad. Fried apple pie? Not so much. Baked apples with chopped hazelnuts and frozen yogurt? Better.”

Read more: 5 Foods That Have More Sugar Than a Candy Bar