Good carbs vs. bad carbs: how to tell them apart

What are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs and how do you tell the difference?

White rice and brown rice together to show bad carbs and good carbs

Carbs receive a lot of bad publicity. We’re also told to avoid carbs since they cause weight gain and type 2 diabetes. But dietary guidelines recommend that we get about half of our daily calories from carbohydrates.

Some carbs are bad while others are tremendously good for you. In fact, it’s necessary that you consume carbs for your body to work optimally. But how do you tell the difference?

Carbohydrates provide your body with the glucose (energy) it needs to function properly. There are two types of carbs: complex carbs and simple carbs. Complex carbs are those that the body takes time to break down into glucose, meaning they are absorbed more slowly into your system and give us lasting energy. These are foods rich in fibre and we call them ‘good’ carbs.

On the other hand, simple carbs include sugars found in foods, such as fruit and milk products, as well as sugars added during food processing. The more refined the carb, the less essential dietary fibre it contains. Foods containing white flour and added sugars are referred to as ‘bad’ carbs.

We can minimise the health risks of bad carbs simply by eating fewer refined and processed carbohydrates, which rob our body of fibre. Note: just because they’re labeled ‘bad’ doesn’t mean you should never eat them, only that you should eat them in moderation.

Here’s a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs:

Vegetables (good carbs):

  • dark leafy greens

  • onions

  • peas

  • mushrooms

  • asparagus

  • artichokes

  • cauliflower

  • broccoli

  • eggplant

  • celery

  • cabbage

  • Brussels sprouts

  • garlic

  • zucchini

  • cucumbers

  • sweet potato

  • root vegetables (i.e. carrot and parsnip)

Vegetables (bad carbs):

  • potatoes

Fruit (good carbs):

  • berries

  • melons

  • tropical fruits (i.e. pineapple, mango, papaya)

  • kiwi

  • tree fruit (i.e. apples and pears)

  • citrus fruits

  • grapes

  • stone fruits (i.e. cherries, plums, peaches, apricots)

Fruit (bad carbs):

  • dried fruits

  • fruit juice

Grains (good carbs):

  • quinoa

  • whole wheat/wholegrain products

  • brown rice

  • sprouted grains

  • whole oats

  • wheat germ

  • bran

  • millet

Grains (bad carbs):

  • white flour

  • white bread

  • breakfast cereal

  • quick oats

  • couscous

  • pasta

  • baked goods (i.e. muffins and cakes)

  • corn

  • cream of wheat

Nuts/seeds/legumes (good carbs):

  • peanuts

  • cashews

  • pecans

  • macadamias

  • sesame

  • almonds

  • walnuts

  • soybeans

  • lima beans

  • fava beans

  • peas

  • chickpeas

  • pinto beans

Nuts/seeds/legumes (bad carbs):

  • honey roasted nuts

  • nuts with a sweet or candied coating

  • sweetened nut butter (i.e. peanut butter)

Dairy products (good carbs):

  • whole milk

  • cream

  • cheese

  • unsweetened yoghurt

  • sour cream

  • butter

Dairy products (bad carbs):

  • ice cream

  • sweetened yoghurt

  • skimmed milk

Want to know more? View an even more comprehensive list of good and bad carbs.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    3rd Mar 2017
    When the shorthand of 4 Calories per gram of carbohydrate was introduced, calorimetry and science went out of the window. Food manufacturers now calculate the number of grams of carbohydrate in the food and multiply by four for the Calorie count for dietary purposes. Those of us with a science background know that this is nonsense. It suggests that a teaspoon of glucose say 5g has a Calorie count of 4 x 5 = 20 Calories and is equal to 5g of say rice. Clearly the body will simply absorb the 5g of glucose straight into the system (instant sugar hit) but the rice must be digested and the starch acted on by enzymes to convert it to glucose before it is absorbed, all of which consumes energy. Also the rice contains fibre which will be excreted and not used by the body at all. In short, this 4-4-9 rule (4 Calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate and 9 Calories per gram of fat) needs to be junked because dieters counting Calories are being misled. They would be much better off realising that the conservation of mass determines that a person can never gain more weight than the weight of food and drink consumed minus the weight of digestive byproducts excreted, that is carbon dioxide, water vapour, sweat, urine and faeces.
    Imagine yourself as a car that runs on fuel. If you starve the car of fuel then it will not work. If you put the right amount of fuel in for the work that the car is expected to do then all is well. But, if you keep putting fuel in and don't use the car as much as you should, then the car will get heavier and heavier with excess fuel.. In other words - If you want to lose weight, then eat less. Simple as that.
    3rd Mar 2017
    Eat less .......i find this simplistic statement rubbish and it comes out of the mouth of my doctor also. I eat less than i ever have in my life and have quit sugar a long time ago. I grow and eat my own whole foods and walk regularly. I continue to gain weight.
    Weight gain is a more complex problem than simply eating less. If this was true i would be tiny.
    3rd Mar 2017
    Re the photo at the top of this article:
    "Brown rice contains higher amounts of arsenic than white rice. If you eat large amounts of rice, the white variety may be a better choice."
    That's not fair is it!
    3rd Mar 2017
    I like the detailed list of foods included/covered in this article. Most similar articles around carbs do not list exactly WHICH foods are good & bad, just a couple of examples
    Penny Dropped
    3rd Mar 2017
    I was unable to find Amelia Theodorakis' health credentials. As a professional writer, I would have expected her to include where this simplistic list of 'good' and 'bad' carbs was sourced from. e.g. was this something based on the Glycemic Index people at Sydney Uni or was it something out of a women's health magazine? Please Your Life Choices ask your writers to name sources so the audience can judge the content and investigate further if interested. Thanks.
    4th Mar 2017
    You are absolutely correct . Writers should indicate their sources or better still get someone who has the appropriate qualification to write the article!
    5th Mar 2017
    I have no problem with the author's listings, except in one case i.e. being a long-time afficianado of skim milk I'm shocked to find it listed among the bad carbs.
    5th Mar 2017
    I have no problem with the author's listings, except in one case i.e. being a long-time afficianado of skim milk I'm shocked to find it listed among the bad carbs.
    Ageing but not getting old
    14th Apr 2017
    Good point. What about Hi-Lo milk (the 'middle ground'?

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles

    You May Like