Which Foods Are High In Carbohydrates?

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The carbohydrates that your body uses for energy fall roughly into the two categories of sugars and starches. Both of these are broken down into simple sugars in your bloodstream. While fiber is also a carbohydrate, it isn't broken down and it is beneficial for your digestive health. You may want to cut back carbohydrates as part of a diet for diabetes or weight management. Foods high in carbohydrate include the following foods and drinks.

High-Sugar Foods

Sugars can be used by the body quickly for energy and also have a faster effect on blood sugar. These foods are common sources of sugar in your diet.

  1. DrinksSugary beverages include everything from soft drinks to flavored coffee drinks to bottled iced tea. Fruit juices are high in sugar and often are low in fiber. Also, cocktails can have a lot of sugar. When you are trying to cut back on carbs, you will want to explore beverages that are sugar-free. Flavored sparkling water can be a refreshing alternative. If you typically drink sweet beverages, making the swap here can ​make a big difference in your diet.
  2. Desserts: Cake, ice cream, candy, and other sweet treats are obvious sources of sugar. There are recipes and ideas for low-carb desserts so you can still have your cake, and eat it, too.
  3. Candy Bars, Energy Bars, and Granola Bars: You might grab one of these as a quick snack or treat, but they are all high in sugar. Even in the healthy kinds are high in sugar from dried fruit and starches from whole grains. The sugar is what puts the energy in energy bars, as it is quickly absorbed if you need it during endurance exercise.
  4. Foods With Added Sugar:  Sugars are added to many foods because humans have a natural sweet tooth and find foods with sugar in them more pleasing. Breakfast cereals are notorious for this, but you'll find added sugar in foods you don't expect, such as ketchup and salad dressings. You'll want to substitute condiments that are low in carbs to make up the difference. The food industry has come up with many creative ways to say "sugar." If you want to cut down on sugar, check the nutrition label on everything you buy. Look for molasses, honey, and other ingredients that mean added sugar. If any of the sugar-containing ingredients is listed near the top of the list on a food's nutrition label or if there is more than one in any one food, it is high in carbs.
  1. Fruits: Many fruits are naturally high in sugar, such as ripe bananas and figs. Dried fruit has very concentrated natural sugar and may have added sugar as well. Canned fruits may be packed in a sugar syrup. But fruit is part of a healthy diet and many contain beneficial fiber and vitamins, so check a list of low-carb fruits (such as berries) you can enjoy with less of a sugar load.
  2. Dairy: Milk, whether whole milk, low-fat or fat-free has 12 to 13 grams of sugar per cup, mostly in the form of lactose. This natural sugar may not be a problem in your diet, but you need to watch out for added sugar in many dairy products, such as sweetened yogurt, flavored milk, and ice cream. Dairy products are good sources of calcium, so you need to balance this benefit with any efforts in reducing carbs. If you switch to almond milk or coconut milk, you will need to be sure to choose unsweetened ones.
Hidden Sugar in Common Foods

High-Starch Foods

Starches are basically long strands of glucose, so they break down to sugars in the body. High-starch foods include:

  1. Starchy Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and corn are examples of high carb, starchy vegetables. A quick way to think of whether a vegetable is starchy is from the root up. Root vegetables and seeds (such as corn and popcorn) are often the highest, followed by the fruits of the plant, with stems and leaves being lowest. But there are low-carb vegetables you can choose from any part of the plant. Vegetables can be a good source of fiber, which is beneficial for digestive health and doesn't break down to sugar.
  2. Flour: Any food made with flour—including bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, pretzels, bagels, crackers, donuts, cakes, cookies, and pastries—is high in starch. This is true of whole grain flours as well, but not true of flours made from nuts or seeds, such as almond flour.
  3. Whole Grains: Rice, barley, oats, quinoa, and other whole grains are high in starch. Even ones that have health benefits, such as oatmeal, will pack a carb punch. However, they also have more fiber, so they are a better choice rather than processed grains.
  1. Legumes: Beans and peas are high in starch, but it a kind that is more slowly digested, especially if the beans aren't canned or pureed.
Starches and Complex Carbohydrates

The Worst of the Worst

The worst high-carb foods you can eat are the ones that are highly processed. This includes most breakfast cereals and foods made with white flour or other refined carbohydrates. It is far better to get your carbs from whole foods than from something manufactured.

What Are Refined Carbohydrates?

A Word From Verywell

Becoming aware of which foods are high in carbohydrate will help you balance your diet. You shouldn't eliminate those that are high in nutritional value, but you may need to watch your portions if you are managing your blood sugar or you are on a low-carb diet. Whenever possible, get your carbs from sources that are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains, legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and whole fruits will provide these in a healthy diet.

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