What really are carbs?

You're Eating Carbs and Don’t Even Know It

You're Eating Carbs and Don’t Even Know It

Carbs—that five letter word we try to avoid when looking to clean up our health habits. Whether looking to lose a little weight, eliminate empty calories from our diet, or simply feel better by consuming fewer carbohydrates, going no or low-carb is a health trend many people are taking by storm.

When it comes to diets, a ton of people dive into low-carb options, but not all of us are readily equipped with the knowledge to do it right. Carbs aren’t just found at the bottomless pasta bowls and breadstick deals at Olive Garden. They’re actually lurking in a lot of foods you might not even realize. If you’re looking for a better path to eliminating carbs from your diet, look no further than this article.

What is a Carb? And Are They All Bad?

Simple vs Complex Carbs : The Difference

Carbs are confusing. That’s because there are two types—simple and complex—and each is found in different foods and affect your body in different ways.

Let’s start with simple carbs.

Simple carbohydrates (also known as sugar) got its name because they have a simple molecular structure. Simple carbs made from one sugar molecule are called monosaccharides and include:

  • Glucose (the most common sugar and one of the body’s preferred sources of fuel)
  • Fructose (found in fruit)
  • Galactose (found in dairy)

Simple carbs made from two sugar molecules are called disaccharides and include:

  • Sucrose (found in cane and beet sugar)
  • Lactose (a sugar in milk)
  • Maltose (sugar produced by the breakdown of starch, such as malt)

That might have been a lot of words, but the basic takeaway is carbs are complicated, and not all simple carbs are bad. In fact, take fructose—the simple carb found naturally in fruit. Fructose is considered a “good” carb because it is naturally occurring, and thus can be naturally digested in the body. Other simple carbs that are processed or refined—like the sugars found in cookies, soda, and other sweets— can cause spikes in our insulin and blood sugar, leading to being used as fat storage. That’s the “bad” kind of carb.

Complex carbohydrates, also called starches, are made up of polysaccharides— complicated chains of sugar molecules. Types of complex carbs include pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, root vegetables, and grains. What differentiates complex carbs from “good” or “bad” is how it’s processed; unrefined complex carbs like brown rice, potatoes, and vegetables, are generally good for you. Refined complex carbs like white rice, white bread, and white pasta are not as good for you and will cause spikes in our blood sugar and insulin just like the “bad” simple carbs.

So All Carbs Are Not All Bad?

Exactly. Carbs are not bad for you, as long as you’re consuming the right amount and the right type. So, think whole wheat grains, fruits with naturally less sugar (berries, grapefruits, limes, and lemons), and root vegetables like beets and yams.

The carbs you should avoid are the ones that are not naturally occurring or are simply added to foods you don’t even expect (like condiments!). Continue reading for a list of carbs found in foods you might not have expected to see.

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10 Unexpected Foods Filled With Carbs

We’ve separated this list into two sections, “good” and “bad” carbs. If you’re specifically looking to eliminate most/all carbs, you’ll want to avoid all of these foods. If you just want to cut the bad carbs, just focus on the second section.

Good Carbs

  • Beans. While beans are a great source of protein, they also contain starch. For example, a ½ cup of pinto beans contains 18 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Root vegetables. Think potatoes, squash, turnips, beets, and carrots. These are starchy carbs (like beans), though the carbs are naturally occurring. They’re also filled with fiber and taste delicious. Try roasting them!
  • Cashews. This one might be a big surprise. Just two handfuls of cashews contain 20 grams of carbs, and is on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to carb content throughout all types of nuts.
  • Milk-alternatives. Even naturally unsweetened almond milk has carbs. While the amount is small (8 oz of unsweetened almond milk has 2 grams of carbs) it’s still there. Watch out for other nut milk that have added sugar—those you should definitely avoid!
  • Yogurt. Since yogurt has lactose in it, there are naturally occurring sugars in any yogurt option. Choose whole milk, plain yogurt, which has 7 grams of carbs per 6 oz serving versus fat-free fruit options with added sugars.

Bad Carbs

  • Fat-free and sugar-free foods. Just because it’s “free” of the bad stuff doesn’t mean a carb or two can still lurk around. Reduced and fat-free foods often compensate for a lack of fat with added sugars. Even “sugar-free” foods have carbs. They simply substitute the white sugar with sugar alcohols, which include a lot of carbohydrates. Make sure to closely read the label of any “sugar-free” food.
  • Liquid eggs. We beg you: Please just eat fresh eggs! Liquid eggs and egg whites contain a lot of weird ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup—which is usually called “maltodextrin" on the food label.
  • Protein bars. Just because a bar is packed with protein doesn’t mean it’s void of sugar. Sugar alcohols added sugar, and even things like chocolate can easily be packed into a protein bar.
  • Condiments. If you’re one of those people who eats fries just for the ketchup, we hate to break it to you: ketchup and other condiments are often filled with sugar. One tablespoon of ketchup contains five grams of carbs and not the naturally occurring ones.
  • Fried food. Once you bread something and throw it in the deep fryer, all hope is lost. Chicken may be full of protein, but put “fried” before its name and the carbs start piling on.

While not all carbs are bad, if you’re looking to eliminate carbs for a specific diet or health goal, it’s best you do your research. Empower yourself to understand where sugars and starches are lurking in your next meal if they are natural or processed, and how many carbs you’re really consuming on a daily basis. It might be more than you think (for now), but soon you’ll be able to understand how much sugar is in everything you eat and can cut back according to your specific dietary needs.


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