Healthy Living

Get to Know Carbs

Learn to make carbs your friend, and not an enemy.

Food plays a vital role in providing the energy you need for everyday activities. The three main nutrients that your body needs in large amounts are known as macronutrients (or “macros”). These macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat – each serve unique roles in maintaining our health. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, it's crucial to strike the right balance of these nutrients.

The impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are broken down into glucose, a form of sugar that enters our bloodstream after digestion. This sugar provides our cells the energy they need to function at their best. When we consume carbohydrate-rich foods and our bodies break them down into glucose, it causes our blood sugar levels to rise. This immediate effect on blood sugar makes carbohydrates a critical nutrient to pay attention to, especially for those managing conditions like diabetes. It's important to note that carbs aren't the enemy; rather, it's about understanding the different types of carbs, how they are digested, and how they impact your blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are minimally processed and packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These carbs are digested at a slower pace than refined carbs, making them less likely to cause a rapid spike in blood sugar. If you're using the Plate Method for portion control, complex carbs make up about a quarter of your plate.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include:

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Nuts and beans


Fiber, which is found in complex carbs, provides a variety of health benefits. Incorporating fiber-rich foods into your eating plan can:

  • Lower cholesterol levels

  • Keep you feeling full and satisfied

  • Promote healthy digestion

  • Assist in managing blood sugar levels

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

Refined carbohydrates

Compared to complex carbs, refined carbs are highly processed, leading to a loss of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When consumed, these carbs are digested more quickly, causing quick spikes in blood sugar levels. 

Examples of refined carbohydrates include:

  • White bread

  • White flour

  • White rice

A tip on refined carbs

While carbohydrates are naturally present in many foods, it's important to be aware of hidden added sugars in processed items. These sugars can go by various names, including dextrose, fructose, lactose, honey, corn syrup, and agave. Reading food labels carefully can help you identify and reduce your intake of added sugars.

To make healthier carbohydrate choices, consider the recommendations below.

Eat more of these foods:
  • Whole wheat, rye, or pumpernickel bread

  • Brown rice or wild rice

  • Whole wheat pasta or brown rice pasta

  • Whole wheat or corn tortillas

Eat less of these foods:
  • White bread

  • White rice

  • White pasta

  • White flour tortillas

In the world of nutrition, carbohydrates play a central role in fueling our bodies and providing the energy we need for our daily activities. By understanding the distinction between complex and refined carbohydrates, we can make informed choices that contribute to stable blood sugar levels. Remember, it's not about cutting carbs entirely, but about embracing a balanced approach to nutrition that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods.