You need at least a certain amount of carbohydrates to provide fuel for your brain and body. Some carbohydrate sources are healthier than others, however, and knowing the good from the bad can help you make better food choices. Carbohydrates should make up between 40 percent and 60 percent of your calories each day, with most of your carbohydrates coming from healthier sources.
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Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are among the better sources of carbohydrates because they contain only natural sugars, not added sugars, and are rich in fiber. They are also low in fat, cholesterol-free and provide other important nutrients, including potassium, folate and vitamins A and C. Choose fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit over canned fruit, which tends to contain added sugars, making it less healthy.
Grains and Cereals
Products made with refined grains fall into the group of less healthy carbohydrates, especially if they also contain added sugars, such as cookies, cakes and many highly processed foods. Whole-grain foods, especially those without added sugars, are good carbohydrates because they are high in fiber and nutrients. Increasing your intake of whole grains may help lower your risk for cancer, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and digestive issues, according to an article published in the "Journal of Nutrition" in May 2011.
Dairy products, although not typically considered carbohydrate foods, do contain some carbohydrates in the form of lactose, a type of sugar. As long as you choose dairy products without added sugars, such as plain milk or yogurt, these would be good carbohydrates. For the best health results, choose low-fat versions of dairy products. Add fruit to your yogurt to provide flavor instead of choosing fruit-flavored yogurt, which usually contains a lots of added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
Sugar and Sweets
Sweeteners, such as sugar, honey or maple syrup, would be considered bad carbohydrates, as would foods or beverages that contain a lot of these ingredients. Most Americans get too much added sugar from their diets. Reducing added sugars can help limit your risk for obesity and heart problems, so the American Heart Association recommends women get no more than 100 calories per day and men get no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.
- MedlinePlus: Carbohydrates
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- American Heart Association: Sugar 101
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Why Is it Important to Eat Vegetables?
- Journal of Nutrition: Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated With Whole Grains — Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium