Refined Carbohydrates in Your Diet

Arnold white bread

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman


Refined carbohydrates, or refined carbs, are grain products that have been processed by a food manufacturer so that the whole grain is no longer intact.

The refining or milling process removes dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals from a food product. If the nutrients have been added back, the refined grains or refined carbohydrates are called enriched grains.

What Are Refined Carbohydrates?

Refined grains can be part of a healthy diet, but they are not always the healthiest choice. You might hear nutrition experts talk about refined grains or refined carbs. The term "refined" sounds healthy but the definition of refined carbohydrates can be confusing.

Food manufacturers often refine or process grains to create a food product that is softer and less bulky. One popular example of refined carbohydrate food is white bread, which is made from refined grains.

Many consumers prefer the taste and texture of white bread because it is softer and easier to eat than bulky whole grain bread. However, if it's lacking nutrients, white bread can be a less healthy option than whole-grain bread.

To avoid inadequate nutrition, food manufacturers sometimes add nutrients back to refined carbohydrates like white bread to "enrich" the food's nutritional value.

On these foods, you'll see the words "enriched flour" or made with enriched grains." However, keep in mind that refined carbohydrates are still lacking healthy fiber—a nutrient that is provided by whole unrefined grains.

According to the USDA, enriched grain products can provide nutritional benefits, but the organization recommends that at least half of your daily grain intake comes from whole grains.

Refined Carbs List

Many processed carbohydrates are sources of refined carbohydrates. You'll find many of these products in the bread section of the grocery store and also in the aisles that contain snack foods and pasta products.

Common Sources of Refined Carbohydrates

  • Pasta (especially white pasta)
  • White rice
  • Rice snacks
  • Crackers
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Bagels
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Soft sandwich bread 
  • Sweetbread
  • Baked desserts
  • Pastries
  • Pizza Dough
  • Hamburger or hot dog buns
  • Pancakes
  • Waffles

Not all foods on this list will contain refined grains. The best way to know for sure is to check the ingredients list, which is printed below the Nutrition Facts Label.

If you see that the food contains enriched flour, you'll know the carbohydrates have been refined.

Are Gluten-Free Foods Refined Carbs?

If you are following a special diet, such as a gluten-free diet, you should also be aware of refined carbohydrates.

Gluten-free foods can also be a source of refined carbohydrates. If you follow a gluten-free diet, many nutrition experts recommend seeking out gluten-free whole grains.

The Gluten Intolerance Group states that whole grains have "not been refined and stripped of important nutrients."

The group advises that people following a gluten-free diet "should try to incorporate whole grains into their diets to get an adequate intake of fiber, minerals, and vitamins."

Cut Back on Refined Carbs

The first step to cutting back on refined carbs is identifying them in your diet. The list above can give you an idea of where to look, but refined grains can also be hiding in unexpected places.

There are some easy, healthy, and tasty swaps you can make. For example, instead of white bread, make a healthier sandwich with whole-grain bread. For a carb-free sandwich, use lettuce in place of bread.

You can also replace refined grains with whole grains in other common meals and snacks. For example, choose whole-wheat crackers and breakfast cereal made with whole grains. You can also find pasta that is manufactured with whole grains. 

By replacing your refined carbohydrates with whole grains, you're also increasing your daily dietary fiber intake. Fiber has several health benefits, including helping you with your weight loss goals. Boosting your fiber intake will help you to feel fuller longer and eat less throughout the day.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gluten Intolerance Group. Whole Grains.

  2. MedlinePlus. Dietary Fiber.

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.