Ask the Doctors: Some tips on ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ carbs

In addition to being the body’s preferred source of energy, carbohydrates are a primary source of micronutrients.

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Foods categorized as complex carbs contain higher levels of fiber and resistant starch. They include vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and fruit.

Foods categorized as complex carbs contain higher levels of fiber and resistant starch. They include vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and fruit.

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Dear Doctors: I’m fuzzy on the idea of “good” and “bad” carbs. I know candy, soda pop and junk food are bad carbs, but I’m not sure what makes them different from good carbs.

Dear Reader: Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all macronutrients, each with a crucial role in our health and well-being.

When protein, fat and carbohydrates are digested, they yield micronutrients — the vitamins and minerals the body requires to generate energy and produce hormones, enzymes and other biochemical substances,build and renew nerves, skeletal structure and blood component, maintain fluid balance and deploy the immune system.

Nt all carbohydrates are created equal. Carbohydrates are made up of chains of sugar molecules. The body breaks these down and converts them into glucose, which it uses for energy.

They are broken down into two major groups: simple carbs and complex carbs.

Simple carbs, which are the so-called bad carbs, consist of short chains of sugar molecules. They include sugar, honey and other sweeteners and also are found in dairy products, fruit and fruit juices and highly processed foods. Because simple carbs are easily digested and quickly absorbed, they cause blood glucose levels to spike. They are also largely devoid of nutrients.

The long, branching chains of complex carbs, or good carbs, are digested more slowly. This results in a more modest and modulated rise in blood glucose. It’s easier on insulin metabolism, which is how the body keeps blood sugar at healthful levels.

Fiber and resistant starch also are factors in the carbohydrate equation. These are carbs that defy digestion. Fiber and resistant starch pass through the stomach largely intact. It’s not until they reach the intestinal tract that they get dismantled and consumed by the trillions of microorganisms of the gut microbiome.

Foods categorized as complex carbs contain higher levels of fiber and resistant starch. They include vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and fruit.

While the sweetness of fruit comes from simple sugars, they are contained in a fiber matrix that slows their digestion and absorption.

Complex carbs are our primary source of numerous nutrients, which earns them the good carbs label.

Rather than focus on good carbs versus bad carbs, think in terms of how highly processed foods are. The closer a food is to its natural state, the more health-friendly its carbs are.

Fill the majority of your diet with unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Save simple carbs for treats or the occasional splurge.

Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are UCLA Health internists.

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