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Carbohydrates functions and types: good carbs, bad carbs and dietary fiber

Carbohydrate functions in the body

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are one of the three macro nutrients that provide energy for body functions. In fact, for most Indians they provide more than 2/3 rd of total food calories!

Principal function of carbohydrates is to provide energy by being broken down into glucose in the body. Glucose is the preferred source of energy for the brain, muscles and RBCs .

Common carbohydrate food sources are grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, milk and added sugars


What are different types of carbohydrates? Which are good carbs and bad carbs?

Earlier carbs used to be classified as simple and complex carbohydrates on the basis of their chemical structure. But now more useful indicators of carbohydrate quality have come to fore. These indicators include: the extent of processing and the glycemic index (GI)/  glycemic load (GL)

On the basis of processing, carbs can be of three broad categories:

Unprocessed carbs: such as whole grains, pulses and beans etc.

Processed carbs: such as milled rice, ehusked wheat flour and

Simple sugars:  such as table sugar (sucrose), honey, syrups etc. See the whole list of added sugars here

Generally speaking consuming more of unprocessed carbs and less processed carbs and added sugars ensures that you get good carbs with low GI and more health benefits. To know more about glycemic index, click here

Good and bad carbs

Number one spot in ‘bad’ carbs would go to simple sugars,  followed by highly processed carbs such as milled rice. Numerous epidemiological studies have found that higher intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars gives higher risk of type 2 diabetes and  heart disease, Higher consumption of whole grains protects against these conditions

Recent studies have found that replacing the bad fats (SFAs) with processed carbohydrates increased the risk of heart disease whereas replacing them with whole grain carbs or PUFA fats, decreased the risk

Therefore, the foremost consideration in carb intake is to consume as little ‘added or simple sugar’ as possible (less than 10% of total calories for the day). Second consideration is to make sure that at least 50% of total grains consumed should be whole grains

See the whole list of added sugars here. Simple sugars include honey, corn syrup etc.

Whole grain cereals, pulses/dried beans and carbs obtained from fruits and milk are good carbs. They are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals


Dietary fibers: a special type of carbs

Dietary fibers are complex carbohydrates which are not broken down by the body to provide energy. They are of two types:

Insoluble dietary fiber: This is present in most food of plant origin and adds bulk to the diet, thereby helping in the maintenance of weight by making us full. It also helps in good bowel movements

Soluble dietary fiber: This type of fiber absorbs water and swells into a gel form thereby delaying absorption of fat and glucose in diet. Thus it helps in decreasing risks of lifestyle diseases (high blood cholesterol, insulin resistance etc.)

Soluble fiber is found in some grains such as oats, barley, buckwheat, most fruits, nuts and seeds and dried beans and peas.

It’s recommended that you get 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories that you consume each day. Most Indians who consume traditional Indian meals consume adequate fiber. But people who eat too much rice and very little vegetables and fruits may need to focus on fiber intake

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet