Wellness & Lifestyle

Healthy Carbs: What are They & How to Make the Right Choices


Are Carbs Healthy: How to Get a Good Source of Healthy Carbohydrates

Healthy carbohydratesPhoto: Unsplash/Cala

They’ve received a lot of bad press over the years, labelled as a major obstacle to weight loss and good health. So many of us might still be wondering, are carbs bad for us or are carbohydrates actually healthy?

Well, there are good carbs and there are bad carbs, so the most important thing to consider is the source of carbohydrates in our diet. And that’s what we’re talking about today.


Carbohydrates have often received bad press in the past and low-carb diets have been promoted as essential if you’re looking to lose weight. 

But the truth is simple: there are good carbs and there are bad carbs and it’s the type of carbohydrates you’re choosing, rather than the quantity, that makes the difference.

Healthy carbohydrates are vital to your wellbeing. They are the sugars, starches, and fibres found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk products and are your body’s main source of energy while being your brain’s preferred source of energy. 

They’re known as macronutrients and are essential to your body’s healthy function and must be obtained through your diet as your body cannot produce macronutrients on its own.

Carbs are broken down by your body into glucose – a type of sugar - which is used as fuel by your body's cells, tissues, and organs.

And at the chemical level, the name carbohydrates means, quite simply, that they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. 


In an article published on The Chalkboard, Dr Hyman, a functional medicine expert, says, ‘Traditional thinking suggests carbohydrates are bad for you. I have something surprising to say that might go against everything you’ve heard: Carbs are the single most important thing you can eat for health and weight loss.’

Healthy carbs, known in the medical world as complex or slow carbs, are one of the three main food groups, including fats and protein, that are essential to your wellbeing.  

On a simple level the crucial role of carbohydrates is as your body's primary source of energy. They help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system. They are essential to keep your body functioning effectively each day. A big job.

They also provide your gut and central nervous system with the cleaning tools required to help you maintain a healthy body and brain and are fundamental to improving your gut health, which is crucial to your long term wellbeing.

And when your body has enough glucose - the form in which carbs appear when broken down by your body - to fulfil its current needs, any leftovers will be stored in your muscles as glycogen for use later on. This glycogen is a vital supply of energy during long periods of high-intensity exercise.

Also, as previously mentioned, carbs are often blamed for weight gain, but the truth is that with the right sort of carbs you’ll actually find foods to boost your metabolism and contribute to weight loss. 

This is because healthy carbs are digested slowly by your body, preventing chaotic spikes in your blood sugar and insulin, and reducing the likelihood of binge eating.

Also, most sources of complex or slow carbs contain fiber, which helps you feel full and satisfied for longer and keeps your energy levels stable after eating.

And if you’re wondering how to stop sugar cravings and nibbles, including a healthy and reliable source of carbs in your diet, and reducing or cutting out the bad carbs, is the key.

Healthy carbohydratesPHOTO: Unsplash/Nadine Primeau

So what are the best carbs to eat?

Now you know just how significant good carbs are to your wellbeing, and so that decision making is simpler when it comes to planning meals or grabbing a snack, I’ve put together a list of healthy carbs to include in your diet. 

The list starts with the best source of carbohydrates at the top, these are the ones you’ll eat in their closest-to-nature state.

  • The carbs to eat freely: Avocado, green grapes, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, bok choy, brussel sprouts, celery, artichokes, cucumber, seaweed, spinach and other leafy greens such as rocket, kale, coriander and parsley.
  • The carbs to eat in moderation: berries, stone fruit, carrot, yellow capsicum, squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, rockmelon, mango, whole grains such as brown, black, and red rice, quinoa, and buckwheat, and legumes including lentils, yellow split peas, and soybeans, healthy meat and seafood, seeds and nuts, and fermented foods such as unsweetened yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha tea.
  • The carbs to eat in limited amounts: peas, potatoes, corn, root vegetables such as beetroot, and high-sugar fruits such as grapes and pineapple.

And the benefits of a diet packed with the complex carbs mentioned above are vast and encouraging.

  • Stacked with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber 
  • Essential for healing damage and inflammation to the body and brain
  • Assist in keeping you full and satiated
  • Balance your blood sugar and prevent the nibblies or cravings 
  • Help keep your gut and bowels happy and healthy
  • Help stabilise your weight

As Dr Hyman assures you, ‘High-fiber, low-sugar “slow carbs”, such as broccoli, are slowly digested and don’t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. These slow carbs reduce cancer risk and increase your body’s ability to detoxify. Therein lies the key difference. Slow carbs like broccoli heal rather than harm.’ 

In terms of how much you should eat each day, the Institute of Medicine recommends all adults get 45% to 65% of their daily calories from healthy carbs, which is 203 to 293 grams per day based on an 1,800-calorie daily diet (one gram of carbs equals four calories).

An easy way to look at this is by volume: most of your plate should be healthy carbs and low-glycemic fruits (fruits with low impact on your blood sugar). Stick with real, unprocessed foods and your body will thank you.


Carbs to avoidPHOTO: Unsplash/Melissa Walker Horn

So what makes a carb unhealthy? 

When you eat carbs, your body will break them down into simple sugars and absorb them into your bloodstream. As your sugar level rises, the pancreas will release insulin, which is used to move sugar from  your blood into your cells, so the sugar can be used as an energy source. 

If this process occurs quickly, as it does with unhealthy carbs, also known as simple or refined carbs, your blood sugar will spike and then crash causing your insulin levels to rise significantly. 

This process will leave you feeling drained and depleted of energy, experiencing sugar cravings, and will upset your appetite controls propelling you to consume even more, likely resulting in binge eating. 

And then the cycle continues.

When referring to refined carbs we’re discussing foods which, as Healthline explains, ‘have been stripped of almost all fiber, vitamins and minerals. For this reason, they can be considered as “empty” calories. They are also digested quickly, and have a high glycemic index. This means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals.’

Insulin also stimulates fat production and inhibits fat breakdown, which explains why a diet high in bad carbs can also lead to weight gain and is a known cause of obesity.

Dr David Perlmutter, a Neurologist who serves on the Board of Directors and is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition explains, ‘insulin works in the body by facilitating the reduction of blood sugar by driving it into cells. But while that is true, insulin performs two other functions in your body that you need to be aware of: it stimulates fat production and inhibits fat breakdown. This explains why sugars and carbs make people fat’. 

On top of that, a diet loaded with these carbs will likely slow your metabolism, which also makes it more difficult to regulate your weight. 

And, as we mentioned in our blog last week, research has linked a high consumption of unhealthy carbohydrates to a change in your gut bacteria, which can result in your body tissue becoming inflamed.

This inflammation can lead to serious illness such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer. 

So what sort of foods are home to simple carbs?

These are generally highly processed foods, but also include starchy vegetables such as potatoes and some less obvious groceries such as sweetened yoghurts, pre-made soups, and muesli. 

Below are some more examples of the foods you should limit, or, depending on your health, consider removing from your diet altogether. These foods are often empty of goodness and full of calories.

  • Biscuits and snacks such as crackers  
  • Refined fruit and vegetable juice
  • Sugary milk drinks 
  • Breads and buns
  • Spreads such as peanut butter with added sugar
  • Condiments such as sauce and salad dressing 
  • Many canned foods including beans, soup, and corn 
  • Some pre-made meals
  • White rice
  • Breakfast cereals 
  • Flavoured yoghurt 
  • Dips and pate 

The foods that fit into this category usually include a further collection of unhealthy traits.

  • Full of refined sugars like corn syrup, white sugar, refined honey, and fruit juice
  • High in refined grains like white flour 
  • Low in or empty of nutrients
  • High in sodium
  • Often high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol

One of the ways to find out if the foods you’re buying belong in this category is to look at the ingredients list on the packet. If sugar has been added, in any of its forms, then it’s most likely this product is an unhealthy option, filled with refined carbs, that you should avoid. 

And some foods can be very misleading. You’ll often see processed foods with labels like ‘healthy snack’ jumping off the packet in bold letters, but when you look at the nutritional information you discover this ‘healthy snack’ is packed with refined carbs such as white rice flour or wheat flour. 


One of the keys to making successful lifestyle changes is to include them wisely rather than becoming fixated and obsessed. You don’t want your behaviour to dominate you. And the same rule applies when considering the carbs in your diet. 

Obviously there will be occasions when healthy carbs are off the menu and it’s time to thoroughly enjoy a delicious dessert when you’re out with friends or indulge in some crackers and creamy cheese if you’re away for the weekend. It’s simply about enjoying in moderation (you’ve heard that one a few times before!). 

What you’re aiming for is a steady move towards a diet that regularly provides a good source of healthy carbohydrates and that keeps you well and content. A rewarding diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats and proteins from nuts, seeds, meat, and seafood.

When you combine these changes with other healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise and good sleep, you are providing yourself with the best chance of achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing chronic illness. 

Consider the changes you can make today and don’t forget to think about what it will mean to enjoy a healthy future.

It can’t get much better than that.

To get you started, here are some great recipes using some of the best ingredients out there. Your mouth will be watering in no time.

Warming sweet potato soup

Green goddess black rice bowl 

Eggplant with turmeric-tahini yoghurt

Chickpea and Brussels sprout salad

Butter chicken with cauliflower rice

Salmon and vegetable curry

Paleo burrito bowl

If you have any stories when it comes to making these sorts of health changes or some healthy recipes you’d like to share, let us know in the comments. 

Also read: 15 Best Healthy Skin Tips: Your Free Guide for Gorgeous Skin

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