Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in a variety of food sources. There are several types, which can differ in terms of nutritional value and effects on health.

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Carbohydrates are a major macronutrient and one of your body’s primary sources of energy. Some weight loss programs discourage eating them, but the key is finding the right carbs — not avoiding them completely.

You may have heard that eating complex carbs is better than simple carbs. But nutrition labels don’t always tell you if the carbohydrate content is simple or complex.

Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and release glucose into the blood stream more gradually. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and spike blood sugar faster and higher.

Understanding how these foods are classified and how they work in your body can help you choose the right carbs.

Carbohydrates are an important nutrient found in numerous types of foods.

Most of us equate carbs with bread and pasta, but you can also find them in:

Carbohydrates are made up of three components: fiber, starch, and sugar.

Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb. Depending on how much of each of these is found in a food determines its nutrient quality.

Simple carbs are sugars. While some of these occur naturally in milk, most of the simple carbs in the American diet are added to foods.

Common simple carbs added to foods include:

Try to avoid some of the most common refined sources of simple carbs and look for alternatives to satisfy those sweet cravings:

1. Soda

Sugary soda is bad for your health in several ways. You can try water flavored with lemon instead.

2. Baked treats

Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit, rather than baked goods full of simple carbs and added sugars.

3. Packaged cookies

Bake your own goods using substitutes like applesauce or sweeteners, or look for other mixes that contain more complex carbs.

4. Fruit juice concentrate

An easy way to avoid fruit concentrate is to look closely at nutrition labels. Always choose 100 percent fruit juice or make your own at home.

Try our recipe for kiwi strawberry juice.

5. Breakfast cereal

Breakfast cereals tend to be loaded with simple carbohydrates. If you just can’t kick the habit, check out our rundown of breakfast cereals, from the best to the worst for your health.

Complex carbs pack in more nutrients than simple carbs. They’re higher in fiber and digest more slowly. This also makes them more filling, which means they’re a good option for weight control.

They’re also ideal for people with type 2 diabetes because they help manage blood sugar spikes after meals.

Fiber and starch are the two types of complex carbohydrates. Fiber is especially important because it promotes bowel regularity and helps to control cholesterol.

The main sources of dietary fiber include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • beans
  • whole grains

Starch is also found in some of the same foods as fiber. The difference is certain foods are considered more starchy than fibrous, such as potatoes.

Other high-starch foods are:

  • whole wheat bread
  • cereal
  • corn
  • oats
  • peas
  • rice

Complex carbohydrates are key to long-term health. They make it easier to maintain a healthy weight and can even help guard against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems in the future.

Be sure to include the following complex carbohydrates as a regular part of your diet:

1. Whole grains

Whole grains are good sources of fiber, as well as potassium, magnesium, and selenium. Choose less processed whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and whole-wheat pasta.

2. Fiber-rich fruits

Some of these are apples, berries, and bananas. Avoid canned fruit since it usually contains added syrup.

3. Fiber-rich vegetables

Eat more of all your veggies, including broccoli, leafy greens, and carrots.

4. Beans

Aside from fiber, these are good sources of folate, iron, and potassium.

Choosing the right carbs can take time and practice. With a little bit of research and a keen eye for nutrition labels, you can start making healthier choices to energize your body and protect it from long-term complications.

What’s in a carb?

Carbs are made up of fiber, starch, and sugars. The American Diabetes Association recommends getting 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.