Carbohydrate sources in the diet. From cookies to vegetables, a guide on how to avoid “bad” and love “healthy” carbohydrates


Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are one of the three primary nutrients. They are found in a wide range of healthy and unhealthy foods and are the primary energy source in the traditional diet. Carbohydrates are produced during photosynthesis, so their primary source is plant-based materials. However, you can also find them in products where they naturally do not occur. In such cases, they are added during production or processing [1,2,3,4].

Sources of simple carbohydrates in the diet

Simple carbohydrates are also called “unhealthy,” although this is an oversimplification. Products that are a source of these sugars are classified as processed foods. They are characterized by low nutritional value and provide a short-term energy source for our body. However, fruits are an exception. Despite their high content of simple sugars, they provide significant amounts of vitamins and dietary fiber [1,2,3,4].

Simple carbohydrates are found in:

  • Fruits and their derivatives (e.g., fruit drinks and nectars, candied fruits)
  • Confectionery products (e.g., cakes, cookies, candies, chocolate)
  • Refined flour (e.g., white bread, bagels, challah, pasta)
  • White and cane sugar
  • Honey
  • Fast food dishes

Sources of complex carbohydrates in the diet

Due to their high nutritional value, complex carbohydrates are also called “healthy.” Their digestion and absorption are slow, gradually supplying energy to the body. As a result, they do not cause sudden fluctuations in blood glucose levels, which helps maintain proper energy metabolism [1,2,3,4].

Sources of complex carbohydrates include:

  • All vegetables and their derivatives
  • Whole grain products (e.g., whole wheat bread, mountain oat flakes, whole grain pasta, oat bran)
  • Coarse groats (e.g., buckwheat, millet)
  • Legume seeds (e.g., peas, beans, broad beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas)

Carbohydrates during weight loss

A common nutritional mistake people make on a weight loss diet is avoiding consuming products naturally containing carbohydrates (e.g., bread or groats). There are many myths resulting from a misinterpretation of sugar properties. However, whole grain products, as well as vegetables, fruits, and legume seeds, are not only sources of “healthy” carbohydrates but also provide valuable fiber. Dietary fiber in meals contributes, among other things, to slowing down sugar absorption and regulating hunger and satiety. Therefore, it is essential to take care of the quality and type of carbohydrates in our diet [1,2,3,4].

Which carbohydrates cause weight gain?

When consumed in excess, products rich in simple carbohydrates hurt our figure. This food provides small amounts of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. Due to this, they have low nutritional value. Moreover, because of their high glycemic index, their consumption leads to sudden fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This process contributes to disorders of satiety, manifesting in increased appetite. As a result, excessive amounts of food promote obesity development [1,2,3,4].

Which carbohydrates to avoid?

Carbohydrates are an essential component of our diet, but not all have an equally good effect on our health. Therefore, according to WHO recommendations, we should reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates in our daily diet. Products containing them have poor nutritional value and high caloric content. Moreover, food rich in easily digestible simple sugars contributes to reactive hypoglycemia. It also increases the risk of developing obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases [1,2,3,4]. A list of carbohydrates you should avoid includes:

See Also

  • White wheat bread
  • Light pasta
  • White rice
  • White and cane sugar
  • Sweetened breakfast cereals (e.g., chocolate, caramel)
  • Sweetened dairy products (e.g., flavored yogurts, ice cream)
  • Sweets (e.g., candies, gummies, chocolate)
  • Pastries (e.g., cakes, cookies, donuts, croissants)
  • Salty snacks (e.g., sticks, pretzels, chips)
  • Fast food dishes (e.g. fries)
  • Sweetened carbonated drinks
  • Nectars and fruit drinks

It’s worth noting that the products mentioned above are a rich source of simple carbohydrates. They also provide minimal amounts of valuable nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, or PUFA [1,2,3,4].


Carbohydrates are considered one of the three essential nutrients. You can find them in a wide range of products, the primary energy source for our body. However, it is critical to remember that not only quantity is essential when composing a diet. The quality of carbohydrates is crucial. According to the World Health Organization’s recommendations, the basis of our diet should consist of products rich in complex sugars. They provide significant amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, positively affecting the body’s energy metabolism [1,2,3,4].


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  2. Jarosz, M., Sajór, I., Gugała-Mirosz, S., & Nagel, P. (2019). Czy wiesz, ile potrzebujesz węglowodanów? Instytut Żywności i Żywienia. 
  3. Jarosz, M., Rychlik, E., Stoś, K., Charzewska, J., Mojska, H., Przygoda, B., Wojtasik, A., Woźniak, A., Wajszczyk, B., Cybulska, B., Kłosiewicz-Latoszek, L., Jasińska-Melon, E., Ołtarzewski, M., Wierzejska, R., Szponar, L., Gielecińska, I., Pietraś, E., Matczuk, E., Kłys, W., … Sajór, I. (2020). Normy żywienia dla populacji Polski i ich zastosowanie. Narodowy Instytut Zdrowia Publicznego – Państwowy Zakład Higieny. 
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