Good-for-you Carbohydrates

loaf of crusty bread on table surrounded by stalks of wheat

Carbohydrates, or “carbs,” have gotten a bad reputation for those watching their waistlines. But not all carbs are bad. In fact, the right carbs are an important part of a healthy diet.

There are two types of carbs: simple and complex. “Simple” carbs are more easily digested by the body and can be found in fruits (get 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day) and dairy. Simple carbs are also found in processed, refined foods like sugar, pasta, and white bread. “Complex” carbs take longer for the body to break down and are found in vegetables, whole-grain pasta and bread, brown rice, and legumes.

You don’t have to give up carbs to have a healthy diet; the key is choosing wisely. American Cancer Society nutrition guidelines recommend avoiding processed and refined carbs in favor of complex ones, as much as possible. American Cancer Society Director of Nutrition and Physical Activity Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, has some easy tips to fit in more complex carbs and better-for-you simple carbs:

  • Read the label on breads, cereals, rice, pasta and crackers. Look for whole something as the first ingredient, such as whole-wheat flour.
  • Start your day with high-fiber foods. Oatmeal, oat cereal, whole-bran or whole-wheat muffins, bagels, or English muffins.
  • Add bananas or berries to your oatmeal or oat cereal, or have fruit on the side.
  • Keep dried fruits and vegetable juice boxes in your desk drawer and glove compartment (but watch the sugar content!).
  • Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter for quick snacking.
  • Enjoy ½ cup (4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice once or twice a day. Mix with club soda or unsweetened seltzer water if you like fizz.
  •  Choose brown rice instead of white.
  • Add barley to soups and stews, or bulgur to salads and casseroles.
  • Choose whole-grain snacks: popcorn, corn tortilla chips and salsa, whole-wheat pita bread with hummus, whole-wheat crackers with low-fat cheese, or whole-grain muffins.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


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