Full of refined sugar, refined white flour, artery-clogging fats and often unknown numbers of additives, pastries are one of the unhealthiest dietary choices. While a pain au chocolat or croissant might be acceptable as an occasional breakfast treat, eating them daily is a shortcut to poor health.
Despite its creamy milkiness, ice cream counts as a carb – and an unhealthy one at that. This is mostly down to the refined sugar. Your body will metabolize them into glycogen to store in the liver or into fatty acids to store as fat around the body.
Sugar, fat, white flour and yet more fat for the deep-frying, a donut is a nutritionist’s nightmare. Baked donuts are marginally less awful for your health but the best option is to avoid them altogether or only indulge once in a blue moon.
Sure, kids like them but, in health terms, sweetened cereal is often little better than pouring out a bowl of refined white sugar. The extra sugars in the cereal offer no nutritional benefit, and frequently lead to weight gain. Meanwhile the refined flour used to make the cereal itself also promotes fat and may cause inflammation in the gut.
It’s the high sugar content of most jams that makes them a less than ideal topping for your toast. Choosing low sugar versions can help but it’s far preferable to opt for a protein-rich alternative such as peanut butter.
If your kids pester for flavored yoghurts, you might give in with the consolatory thought that at least the yoghurt is good for them. Unfortunately, most flavored yoghurts are very high in sugar – with a single portion of some brands containing more sugar than the recommended daily maximum for an adult.
Donuts in all but name, churros come with all the health concerns of their chunkier relative. The sugar, the white flour, the fat, the frying oil – and, of course, any additional sugar or chocolate used as a topping – make them exceptionally unhealthy carbs.
Let’s clarify what we mean by muffins. The cake-style muffin sold in so many coffee shops is almost always high in sugar and white flour, making them an unhealthy carb choice. Homemade versions made with wholegrain flour are a better choice. Meanwhile, English-style toasted muffins are also usually made with white flour but wholegrain versions are just as tasty and more filling.
With its high-fructose levels, corn syrup is a particularly bad choice. It raises your risk of fatty liver disease and diabetes, and offers no counteracting nutritional benefits. Even maple syrup isn’t a great option. Eating anything that’s primarily sugar without any fiber causes spikes in both blood sugar and insulin levels.
They sound almost healthy, right? Unfortunately, fruit snacks contain highly concentrated sugars without any fiber. This, together with their natural stickiness, makes them very bad for the teeth – as well, of course, as being bad news for insulin and blood sugar levels. Whatever your kids say, they’re definitely no better than regular candy.
What’s nicer than a freshly made loaf of white bread! Sadly, whether you bake it yourself or buy it ready-sliced from the grocery store, white bread contains highly processed white flour. It’s high in sugar and low in nutritional goodness. In many people, refined white flour also prompts inflammatory responses in the gut, which can cause digestive issues.
It’s hard to imagine Mexican food without tortillas, isn’t it? Sadly, tortillas – and especially white flour tortillas – are high in empty carbs. This means that they’re likely to send your blood sugar levels soaring soon after finishing your meal. If you can, it’s better to replace the white flour tortillas with a wholewheat version or, better still, a healthier option such as beans.
It can’t be a surprise to see candy on this list of the worst carbs. Packed with sugar, additives and little else, candy really is the definition of “empty calories”. Of course it tastes good but it’ll damage your teeth, make you put on weight, and raise your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Even if you pick a granola bar that isn’t loaded with chocolate chips, it’s not nearly as healthy a snack as you might imagine. If you’re lucky, you’ll at least get some protein in the form of nuts and a little fiber from the rolled oats. However, many granola bars contain as much sugar as candy – making them, essentially, candy in disguise.
If drunk black and in moderation, coffee is not essentially unhealthy. However, it’s easy to change that. Just a squirt or two of sweet foam or a couple of teaspoons of sugar gives you a beverage that instantly carries all the negative health connotations of anything with added sugar.
Canning has long been an effective way of preserving fruit. However, modern methods, in particular, typically involve the addition of excessive amounts of sugar. This turns an essentially healthy item into a trigger for insulin spikes and Type 2 diabetes. If possible, it’s always best to eat fruit when it’s fresh.
It’s hard to imagine a cold glass of fruit juice as anything other than healthy and packed with vitamins. And, while the vitamins are usually there, the fiber needed to make the juice properly healthy is not. This is a consequence of juicing: inevitably, the process removes all fibrous material. Blending is a much better alternative that retains the most nutrient-rich parts.
If there’s an even worse alternative to fruit juice, it’s soda. This fizzy favorite lacks the vitamins that might give the odd glass of fruit juice an occasional pass. Instead, soda’s high sugar content damages teeth, makes weight gain more likely and raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes that, in turn, increases the chance of heart disease.
You can’t have a pizza without dough, can you! And that’s a pity. Regardless of how many vegetables you include in your topping – and even if you skip the cheese altogether – a white flour pizza base is a high GI food that will send your blood sugar levels soaring.
It’s hard to resist a bowl of fluffy white rice. However, white rice is rice that’s lost its outer husk – and it’s this husk that contains most of the grain’s fiber. Lose the fiber and you have yet another high GI food that will spike your blood sugar levels and won’t keep you feeling full.
White flour pasta
Pasta made with white flour is pasta without any appreciable fiber. It might go well with your chosen sauce but it won’t do such a good job at keeping you full in the hours after you’ve finished your meal. Choosing wholewheat pasta largely avoids the blood sugar spikes that white pasta causes – and the wholewheat option is better for your gut health.
You almost certainly don’t need any reminder of why potato chips aren’t a great addition to your diet. However, just in case: they’re high in fat, high in salt (and, yes, high in taste), and low in complex carbohydrates. In short, they’ll put inches on your hips and help clog up your arteries.
Just like potato chips, fries are a high fat, high salt food that contain almost zero nutritional benefit. If you must indulge occasionally, oven-baked is preferable. However, even oven baked versions won’t contain the sort of complex carbohydrates you need to keep hunger at bay.
Often low calories and low in saturated fats, crackers still aren’t a great option if they’re made from refined white flour. This makes them a high GI food that won’t fill you up and will rapidly increase your blood sugar levels. Wholewheat versions are preferable.
Let’s not beat about the bush. If someone’s invented a genuinely healthy cookie, they’re keeping very quiet about it. High in fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates, even if you add rolled oats to you cookies, you’re still not doing yourself any favors. For the very occasional treat, homemade cookies are usually best.
Packed with the refined carbohydrates, fat and sugar that spell bad news on the health front, cake is a moreish treat that’s hard to turn down. Avoid the worst effects of the inevitable blood sugar spike by enjoying a small piece after a low GI meal.
Without any dietary fiber and only a trace of protein, honey is almost pure sugar. To be precise, a typical tablespoon of honey contains around 16 grams of sugar. And, unfortunately, the fact that it’s made by industrious bees can’t change the fact that it’s definitely an unhealthy carbohydrate choice.
Many dedicated beer drinkers are well aware that their favorite tipple helps them pack on the pounds. That’s because beer is fairly high in carbohydrate, with a typical pint containing between 10 and 15 grams. “Light” beers are also lighter on the carbs but will still make you gain weight if you drink too much.
Refined white sugar
No matter how you frame it, refined white sugar is bad news. And, frankly, brown sugar isn’t much better. Sugar is a naturally high glycemic index food – and these are the foods that significantly raise your risk of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.
The best way to enjoy a potato is with its fiber-rich skin still on. While a baked potato is a pretty low GI food, fried potatoes (especially if they’ve been peeled) are not. The fat used for frying isn’t great news for your waistline or your heart even if the overall result tastes great.
Perhaps it surprises you to see barbecue sauce on this list. However, far from being an innocuously tasty addition to a grilled steak or burger, barbecue sauce is loaded with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. It’ll increase your risk of developing diabetes and, ultimately, heart disease and other unwelcome illnesses.
A good bagel is hard to beat. Unfortunately, their dense chewiness means that you’re getting even more refined white flour than with a similarly-sized bread roll. This may not matter too much if you’re very active but, if you’re not, too many bagels is likely to equal weight gain.
Homemade açai bowls, especially if they contain fresh fruit and perhaps peanut butter, aren’t a bad breakfast option. However, many commercially-prepared options will be much higher in simple carbs and loaded with unnecessary sugar. The result might taste good but you’ll almost certainly be hungry within the hour thanks to the blood sugar spike and consequential crash.
Boxed mac and cheese
Whether boxed man and cheese contains added sugar or not, your body will react to it as if it does. That’s because it’s made from refined white flour, which your body breaks down so quickly that it has the same effect as an equivalent amount of sugar.
Perhaps you think of jelly as a relatively harmless accompaniment to peanut butter or a tasty occasional alternative to honey for your toast. However, despite the fact that fruit is rich in natural sugars, jelly is at least as rich in added refined sugars. This can mean that sugar constitutes 12 of the 13 grams of carbs that make up the typical tablespoon of grape jelly.
Although it’s often served with plenty of healthy vegetables, couscous itself isn’t a fantastic choice when it comes to carbs. Most couscous is a refined grain, which means it’s stripped of its fiber-rich coating. Choosing wholegrain couscous is a much better option, which will ensure you stay fuller for longer.
Don’t fool yourself: the addition of sliced banana or some berries doesn’t counteract the negative health implications of sweet waffles. High in sugar and white flour, they’re food for a diabetic-in-waiting. And, unfortunately, even though they lack most of the sugar, potato waffles aren’t much better.
You might have fond childhood memories of pudding cups. However, their high sugar content makes them no better than candy. They might be yummy to eat but they’ll rot your teeth, raise your blood sugar levels,
Unsweetened, homemade (or homemade-style) apple sauce isn’t a problem. It’s a tasty and fairly nutritious addition or a meal. However, many commercially-prepared apple sauces are so high in added sugar that the resulting product is little better than a pudding cup.