Carbs are the fuel to our body. They are the treasure house for the instant energy our body requires to perform optimally. Refined carbs foods, on the other hand, are not nutritious. They do more harm than good and lead to many lifestyle diseases in the long run.
With time being a constraint and the ready availability of refined foods to eat on the go, individuals are increasingly preferring refined foods. In this context, many big questions emerge: are carbs bad for you? What are good carbs and bad carbs? How to reduce the consumption of refined carbs foods? Join us as we delve this discussion in depth in this article.
What are refined carbs?
To understand what refined carbs are, it is essential to understand what carbs are.
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are one of the vital nutrients our body requires, with protein, fat, and fiber. Carbohydrates provide energy for the metabolism and activities we perform. In the absence of adequate carbs, our body cannot immediately make energy leading to fatigue.
Primarily, carbohydrates provide glucose to our bodies. The quality of carbs depends on the nutritional value they impart in addition to only glucose.
To understand what are refined carbs, here is a simple pointer:
- Refined carbs are rich in glucose with empty calories and less nutrition.
Refined carbs list
- Processed foods (Food items with added sugar, stabilizers, preservatives, colours and sodium)
- white bread
- Sugary drinks
- White sugar
- Breakfast cereals
- Refined flour/maida/white flour, and white rice.
Why are refined carbs bad?
Refined carbs are whole grains processed beyond healthy levels and deprived of natural nutrients.
Whole grains contain three parts:
During the process of refining, the bran and germ are removed. As a result, the resulting grain is deprived of many nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and selenium.
In addition, manufacturers add synthetic ingredients to make up for lost nutrients which can further degrade the quality of the refined carbs. Research published by the National Library of Medicine indicates that consuming synthetic ingredients instead of whole, natural foods can lead to inflammation and reduced immunity.
The Glycemic index and refined carbs
The glycemic index is a metric that indicates how fast a food item can increase our blood sugar levels. The lower the glycemic index, the healthier the food item is.
Refined carbs such as chips, cakes, sugary drinks, maida, white rice, etc. contain a high glycemic index compared to their whole versions such as brown rice and whole wheat flour.
With that said, let us discuss this question again: are carbs bad for you?
Not all refined carbs are bad.
For instance, if white rice or wheat flour is traditional food as per your genetic makeup and local culture, you can consume them without any qualms.
Include healthy protein with every serving of rice or wheat and reduce the amount of rice or wheat without eliminating it.
Consuming healthy proteins like homemade paneer, dals, peas, kidney beans, chole, eggs, curd, and yogurt with rice and wheat items will maintain glucose levels in healthy ranges.
For instance, in Indian culture, it is customary to include white rice with dals, vegetables, and healthy fat like ghee, curd, and spices in every meal to ensure that the body receives a complete nutrition spectrum and balanced sugar levels. Protein-rich vegetarian food along with healthy carbs is a secret to longer, healthier life.
However, if you are health conscious, cut down on refined carbs foods such as baked items, cakes, pasta, noodles, white flour, chips, and sugary drinks with no second thought.
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Health risks of refined carbs foods
The human stomach digests refined foods faster compared to whole foods leading to many health risks and lifestyle diseases:
Refined carbs convert into glucose faster than whole grains. As a result, our blood glucose swings soon after eating bad carbs. It drives us to eat more refined food to fill the nutrient void.
As a result, individuals who eat more refined foods tend to overeat without their knowledge. Overeating is one of the causes of obesity.
Overeating and refined foods can increase blood triglyceride levels. It can lead to heart disease and related complexities. Ayurveda suggests consuming more whole foods over refined carbs to protect the heart’s health.
The excessive glucose and lack of protein and fiber in refined foods can spike blood glucose levels soon after consumption. It can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Many refined foods are overloaded with synthetic ingredients and preservatives. These chemical substances can do more harm than good the grain does.
Preservatives in refined foods such as white bread, pasta, noodles, chips, cookies, cakes, flavored milk, sweetened dairy products, etc. can decrease the body’s natural immunity.
Loaded with sugar, sodium, and fat
Sugar, salt, and fat are present in excessive amounts in refined foods. They act as taste enhancers making individuals crave them to eat more. Eating such refined carbs can increase the risk of high blood pressure and obesity.
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An increase in the waistline is the fastest visible result of sugary, refined carbs. The high sugar levels from processed foods tend to make individuals overeat empty calories resulting in fat accumulation around the tummy in no time. An increased waistline can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Refined carbs induce obesity which can play havoc with the production of hormones. Hormonal issues such as fertility risks, acne, mood swings, and irregular menstrual cycle can be seen in individuals addicted to processed, refined foods.
Higher cancer risk
Studies indicate the association of refined carbs with increased cancer risk. The lack of immunity, high salt levels, preservatives, and taste enhancers can lead to higher food-triggered cancer risk.
Good carbs promote gut health naturally due to the healthy bacteria present in them. On the contrary, bad carbs destroy good gut bacteria and can lead to digestive and emotional issues. Individuals addicted to refined carbs exhibit more mood swings and eating disorders due to impaired gut performance.
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Are all carbs bad?
Refined carbs can harm our health. However, plenty of good carbs are very nutritious and healthy.
Individuals who aim to eliminate bad carbs can include these nutritious, good carbs in their diet:
- Whole grains
- Kidney beans
- Peas and lentils
- Root vegetables
How to identify refined carbs?
The name refined carbs can sound confusing for anyone new to bad carbohydrates.
To identify and stay away from refined carbs, use this simple trick during your grocery shopping:
Check the ingredients of the foods on the label. Any mention of chemicals like preservatives added colors, taste enhancers, stabilizers, sodium, sugar, oil, etc. can indicate that the substance is a refined carb.
Tips to Reduce Consumption of Refined Carbs Foods
Refined carbs possess a strong addicting nature. If not controlled in the initial days of consumption, individuals can get addicted to refined carbs foods and spoil their health in many ways.
Below we share powerful tips to replace refined carbs with the goodness of whole carbs:
Prefer organic food.
Organic food is free from pesticides, chemicals, and added preservatives. It is the healthiest option to eliminate refined foods and detox your body which has been fed with refined foods so far.
Eat homemade food.
Plan your meals and stock your refrigerator with wholesome, nutritious foods. Reduce ready-to-eat and restaurant foods to cut down on refined food and fat.
Eat whole foods.
Diary, fruits, vegetables, and any other food, always consume in their unrefined form. Refrain from processed juices and flavored drinks.
Understand that your body and mind need a gentle shift from processed/refined carbs to healthier ones. Do not force your body with all changes at a go. Instead, make one change at a time for a sustained, visible result.
Observe the changes.
Cutting back on sugars and processed foods can sometimes create headaches and cravings. However, these conditions are temporary and only an indication that your body is fighting to come back to normal, healthy conditions.
Educate children about the benefits of whole foods.
Stay an example for them in dietary habits and encourage them to follow healthy diet habits.
Always consume a wholesome variety of whole foods along with organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats like olive oil and ghee in moderation, and whole milk items such as curd and paneer to provide complete nutrients to your body. Check paneer nutrition levels.
Get back to roots
Replace non-stick kitchen items with traditional kitchen appliances to eliminate toxins during cooking.
Swap refined foods with their whole forms. The below table has been given for your reference:
|Refined Carbs||Healthy Carbs|
|White bread||Wholegrain bread|
|Flavored milk||Whole organic milk|
|White pasta||Whole grain pasta|
|Drinks with added sugar and preservatives||Fresh fruit juices, herbal teas, coconut water, buttermilk|
|Processed snacks||Dry fruits, fresh fruits, egg whites|
|Chips, burgers||Traditional homemade snacks made of whole flours and grains|
Carbs are essential for the healthy working of our body. Making wise choices for good carbs and eliminating bad carbs protects our health in diverse ways.
Frequently asked questions
What are refined carbs?
Refined carbs are processed versions of whole carbs and are deprived of the protein and the nutrient-rich part of the whole carbs.
What is the healthiest carb?
All naturally occurring root vegetables and whole grains are healthy carbs. For best results, consume them in boiled form instead of in deep-fried or baked versions.
Are potatoes refined carbs?
Potatoes, like other root vegetables, are healthy carbs. The carbs from potatoes turn unhealthy when we consume them as processed foods such as French fries and chips. Consume potatoes in limited quantities in the boiled form to avail of their rich nutrients.
Is rice a refined carb?
White rice is a refined carb. To get the complete benefits of carbs from rice, consume rice in its whole form such as brown rice, red rice, and black rice.
Why should you avoid refined carbohydrates?
Refined carbs can lead to diabetes, obesity, cancer, reduced immunity, and nutritional deficiencies. Hence it is highly suggested to avoid refined carbs.
What are refined carbohydrates to avoid?
Avoid all processed foods such as chips, burgers, soft drinks, deep-fried foods, on-the-shelf foods, flavored items, and bakery items.
Is oatmeal a refined carb?
Oatmeal is not a refined carb. It is a whole grain with a lot of nutritional value. Oatmeal is a healthy carbohydrate.
What are refined carbs substitutes?
Substitute refined carbs with whole wheat flour, non-starchy vegetables, whole unpolished grains, oatmeal, red rice, brown rice, millets, raw sugar, and whole milk.