by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Carbohydrates have long been a contentious topic in the world of nutrition. While some carbohydrate sources like whole grains and fruits are touted for their numerous health benefits, others are unfairly labeled as “bad carbs.” The truth is many of these so-called “bad” carbs can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, as they provide essential nutrients and energy for the body. Of course, moderation and appropriate serving sizes are key.
If you’ve been avoiding carbs because you think they’re all bad, you’ll be relieved to know that there are plenty of options that are actually good for you.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper and take a closer look at some of these “bad” carbs that are worthy of including in your diet.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before making any changes to your current nutrition plan.
5 “Bad Carbs” That Are Actually Good for You
Let’s debunk some misconceptions and embrace whole, nutrient-dense foods by exploring why these so-called “bad carbs” are beneficial for your health.
1. White Potatoes
White potatoes are often considered comfort food, but they are not inherently bad for you. While they are high in carbohydrates, they are low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in nutrients. The problem lies in the way they are consumed, such as deep-fried or loaded with toppings. In comparison to sweet potatoes, white potatoes contain less sugar, more protein, and more vitamins and minerals.
Potatoes are a rich source of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber, with almost 4 grams of fiber per potato if consumed with the skin. To break away from the traditional high-calorie sour cream-topped baked potato, try dicing potatoes, seasoning them with olive oil and rosemary, and roasting them until crispy for a healthier alternative.
2. White Rice
Rice is a staple food consumed globally, comprising three parts: bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran and germ contain nutrients, while the endosperm is mainly starch.
Brown rice is a whole grain because it retains the bran and germ, making it more nutritious than white rice, which only contains the endosperm. However, the bran and germ also contain anti-nutrients, such as phytates and phytic acid, which can make it difficult for our digestive system to break down and potentially harm our digestive tract if not properly prepared.
While brown rice is often considered healthier, both white and brown rice can be healthy choices when appropriately prepared. This is supported by the traditional wisdom of many Asian cultures, where white rice is the preferred choice.
Pasta is a type of refined carbohydrate that is unique due to its protein structure, resulting in a slower digestion rate than other refined carbs like white bread. This slower digestion leads to a lower glucose response, meaning most kinds of pasta have a low to medium glycemic index.
Recent studies have also shown potential health benefits associated with pasta consumption. A 2021 study published in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health found that postmenopausal women who ate more than three servings of pasta per week had a reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Also, a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition showed that pasta eaters tended to have a better diet quality, consuming more folate, fiber, iron, and magnesium than non-pasta eaters.
Bread is a versatile and satiating food commonly used to make sandwiches. While some fad diets might discourage the consumption of bread, they can actually be a healthy part of a balanced diet, especially when opting for nutritious options like whole-grain bread. The nutritional value of bread can vary depending on the type you choose.
Whole-grain bread, for instance, typically contains more fiber compared to white bread, while enriched white bread can be a good source of B vitamins when compared to unenriched alternatives.
Sourdough bread may have health benefits due to its unique preparation process. Studies suggest that daily consumption of sourdough bread can promote healthy colon metabolism and positively impact glycemic response and satiety.
Corn on the cob can be delicious, and you should know that it may offer some health benefits. Corn is a natural source of zeaxanthin and lutein, two carotenoids that help support eye health, and it may help decrease the risk of macular degeneration, as per a 2022 article in Nutrients. Corn also has fiber, protein, and some other nutrients, such as copper, zinc, and magnesium.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on purple corn, you should know that every bite of the corn will provide a boost of anthocyanin. According to a 2021 review, this plant compound is related to reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and a decreased risk of cognitive decline.