Ever heard of simple things causing complex problems? Well, refined carbs do that. Refined carbs are processed carbs that affect the body by causing a quick spike in the insulin levels (1). Most snacks, fried foods, and sugary treats are loaded with simple carbs. And consuming these in excess over a period can cause obesity, diabetes, PCOS, and cardiovascular diseases (2), (3), (4). Hence, you must avoid or limit the intake of refined carbs. But which foods are refined carbs? Are all carbs bad? Read on to find the answers to your questions. We have also compiled a list of foods that are refined carbs, carbs that are good for you, and much more. Swipe up!
What Are Refined Carbs?
Refined carbs are processed carbs – which means most of the minerals, vitamins, and fiber are removed.
Complex carbs are good or healthy carbs that contain dietary fiber (complex and large molecules) that gets slowly digested and does not cause a quick spike in glucose levels. Whole grains, fruits, and veggies are complex carbs. However, processing (milling and grinding) the healthy carbs reduces the particle size of the carbs and make them get digested and absorbed quickly into the body (5). This process results in a spike in the glucose levels and can lead to many health complications.
But before we get to why refined carbs are bad for you, let’s take a look at the list of foods that are sources of refined carbs.
Sources Of Refined Carbs
- Refined flour
- Milk powder
- White bread
- White rice
- White sugar
- Breakfast cereals
- Wafers and snacks
- Mashed or fried white potatoes
- Packaged fruit/vegetable juice
- Energy drinks
- Batter fried foods
The list may make you a little sad, but once you know what these foods can do to your body, you’d probably want to avoid or limit consuming them. Here’s how refined carbs affect your body and why it is best to avoid them.
Why Are Refined Carbs Bad For You?
Refined carbs are bad for various reasons. Here are some evidence-based reasons you should limit or avoid consuming refined carbs:
Refined Carbs Are Low In Nutrients
As you can tell from the refined carbs foods list, all of them taste good and have a feel-good effect on us. But these foods are high in calories and have zero nutritional value.
During the processing, the whole grains are stripped of the bran (outermost layer of whole grains) that contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The germ is also removed during processing, which contains vitamin B, antioxidants, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, selenium, and manganese.
So, with the most nutritious part removed from the whole grain, refined carbs are just empty calories that you consume (6).
Refined Carbs Raise Blood Glucose
Refined carbs have no nutritional value. They are high in calories and have a high glycemic index.
Glycemic index is a number given to a food, depending on how it affects the blood glucose levels (7). Refined carbs tend to raise the blood glucose levels quickly, and they have a short-term effect on satiety.
On the other hand, complex carbs are low glycemic index foods and low in calories and keep you full for a longer duration.
Refined Carbs Make You Diabetic
When the blood glucose levels rise, the beta cells in the pancreas secrete insulin (8). Insulin helps shuttle the glucose molecules into the cells, where glucose is converted to usable energy.
But when you consume too many refined carbs and keep consuming them in the form of snacks and sugary treats, the blood glucose and insulin levels remain high. Over time, your body becomes insulin resistant, i.e., the cells stop recognizing insulin (9). As a result, the blood glucose levels remain high. The cells are devoid of glucose, making you lethargic and hungry all day long.
Refined Carbs Cause Obesity
Refined carbs get digested and absorbed into the body easily and quickly. As a result, you tend to feel hungry quickly, which can make you prone to binge eating (12). Though you “feel” you are hungry, your body actually has more glucose in store than the energy it needs to perform normal body functions. So, the extra glucose is stored in the body as fat.
Scientists have also found that consuming too many refined and simple carbs causes inflammation in the body. Simple and refined carbs tend to stimulate triglycerides-forming enzymes, and the fat cells release free fatty acids that activate the inflammatory signaling pathways (13). When your body is constantly under stress with high levels of inflammation, it stores calories you consume in foods as fat.
Refined Carbs Cause Belly Fat
The more you consume refined carbs, the more the chances that you will accumulate fat in your belly region. It is one of the most dangerous types of fat and is tough to get rid of.
Refined Carbs Increase The Risk Of Heart Disease
Refined carbs get digested and absorbed easily, making you overeat. Your body starts to store the excess glucose as fat, and the triglyceride levels also shoot up. If you do not keep a check on your refined carb intake, you will be at the risk of fatal heart disease.
Scientists found that people who consumed whole grains were at lower risk of heart disease than people who consumed refined carbs (16).
Refined Carbs Cause Gut Problems
The good gut bacteria help in digestion, and they feed on dietary fiber found in food sources of complex carbs. But refined carbs have no dietary fiber.
Being on a high-refined carb diet can reduce the number and variety of good gut bacteria, which can affect digestion and cause constipation (17).
Refined Carbs Intake May Cause Cancer
When your body is in a constant state of inflammation, your body’s stress levels go up. And this may trigger DNA mutation, leading to the production of proteins that may cause cancer.
It is clear that refined carbs are potentially dangerous for you and are one of the main reasons for the obesity epidemic and many other related health issues. The best way to tackle this problem is to replace the refined carbs with good carbs and nutrient-dense foods. Here’s how you can do that.
How To Eliminate Refined Carbs From Your Diet
The best way to eliminate refined carbs from your diet is to make healthy and conscious choices. Here’s a table of healthy foods that you can choose instead of refined carbs.
|Instead Of These||Choose These|
|Refined flour||Whole wheat flour, ragi flour, mixed whole grain flour|
|White rice||Brown rice, red rice, black rice, cauliflower rice|
|Regular pasta||Wheat pasta, zoodles, beetroot pasta/noodles, squash spaghetti|
|Sugary breakfast cereals||Oats|
|Instant oats||Rolled oats or steel-cut oats|
|Refined sugar||Jaggery, organic honey, organic maple syrup|
|White potato||Sweet potato|
|Fried snack||Baked, homemade wafers, cutlets|
|Deep fried/batter fried chicken||Homemade, baked or grilled chicken|
|Sugary treats||80% dark chocolate|
|Potato wafers||Popcorn, kale chips, beetroot chips|
|Nachos||Veggies with dip|
It’s not tough to get rid of the bad carbs from your diet. Here’s another list of foods containing good carbs that you can consume.
Sources Of Good Carbs
- Freshly pressed fruit/vegetable juice (without sugar)
- Whole grains
- Homemade salads
- Wheat pasta
- Rolled oats
- Quinoa, amaranth
Learning to fine-tune your carb cravings plays a big part in the way you treat your body. Killing your soul and depriving your body will not work. Neither will overeating and consuming high amounts of refined carbs. Start limiting the quantity of refined carbs you consume per day. And over a period, you will be able to avoid refined carbs completely and not even crave for them. Start today and provide your body the food that it really needs and deserves. Take care!
1. “Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar”, Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health
2. “Starches, Sugars and Obesity”, US National Library of Medicine
3. “Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment”, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
4. “Markedly increased intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar is associated with the rise of coronary heart disease and diabetes among the Alaskan Inuit”, US National Library of Medicine
5. “Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat?”, US National Library of Medicine
6. “Grain processing and nutrition.”, US National Library of Medicine
7. “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load”, Oregon State University
8. “Insulin and Insulin Resistance”, US National Library of Medicine
9. “Etiology of Insulin Resistance”, US National Library of Medicine
10. “What causes the insulin resistance underlying obesity?”, US National Library of Medicine
11. “Insulin Resistance and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.”, US National Library of Medicine
12. “High glycemic index foods, overeating, and obesity.”, US National Library of Medicine
13. “The Effects of the Combination of a Refined Carbohydrate Diet and Exposure to Hyperoxia in Mice”, US National Library of Medicine
14. “Whole- and refined-grain intakes are differentially associated with abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in healthy adults: the Framingham Heart Study”, US National Library of Medicine
15. “A refined high carbohydrate diet is associated with changes in the serotonin pathway and visceral obesity.”, US National Library of Medicine
16. “The Association between Carbohydrate-Rich Foods and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Is Not Modified by Genetic Susceptibility to Dyslipidemia as Determined by 80 Validated Variants”, US National Library of Medicine
17. “Effect of diets low and high in refined sugars on gut transit, bile acid metabolism, and bacterial fermentation.”, US National Library of Medicine
18. “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort”, US National Library of Medicine
19. “Carbohydrate intake, obesity, metabolic syndrome and cancer risk? A two-part systematic review and meta-analysis protocol to estimate attributability”, US National Library of Medicine