Carbohydrates aren't all bad, though some may be better for you than others. The carbohydrates you get from foods like potatoes, pasta, bread, bananas, sugar and rice all fall into one of two categories: simple or complex. You need both in a healthy diet, but it's best for you to choose more foods rich in complex carbohydrates like fiber than ones high in simple carbohydrates such as sugar.
A small baked Russet potato contains nearly 30 grams of total carbohydrates. Of this amount, 3.2 grams are from dietary fiber and 1.5 grams are contributed by simple sugars. The remainder of the carbohydrate content is starch. The starch in potatoes can cause your blood sugar level to spike, then drop rapidly, leaving you feeling hungry not long after eating. Experts from Harvard recommend eating potatoes only occasionally.
A cup of cooked, regular pasta like spaghetti will provide you with 43 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of dietary fiber and 0.78 grams of sugar. By contrast, whole-wheat spaghetti has 37 grams of carbohydrates, 1.1 grams of sugar and more than double the dietary fiber at 6.3 grams per cooked cup. The USDA says that you should choose whole-grain pasta over regular pasta because it's a better source of fiber, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and iron.
An average, 28-gram slice of commercially prepared white bread contains approximately 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0.8 grams of dietary fiber and 1.4 grams of sugar. For more fiber, choose whole-wheat bread: Each slice of whole-wheat bread contains almost 2 grams of fiber along with 11.5 grams of total carbohydrates and 1.6 grams of sugar. A healthy adult woman on a 2,000-calorie diet should have 28 grams of fiber each day; a sandwich prepared with two slices of whole-wheat bread would supply 14 percent of her daily fiber requirement.
You'll get about 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3.1 grams of dietary fiber and 14 grams of sugar from a medium-sized banana. The average adult woman needs between 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates each day, and eating a banana will supply her with 8 to 12 percent of her recommended carbohydrate intake.
Sugar doesn't contain any dietary fiber. All but a fraction of a 1-teaspoon serving of refined white sugar's 4.2 grams of carbohydrates is supplied by the simple carbohydrate, sucrose. The American Heart Association says women should limit themselves to 6 teaspoons of refined white sugar daily, though it's best to keep your intake as low as possible. Refined sugar adds calories to your diet, but no nutrients.
By using brown rice instead of white rice as a source of carbohydrates, you'll get more nutrients and stay fuller longer because of brown rice's high fiber content. While white rice has 44 grams of carbohydrates, 0.08 gram of sugar and 0.6 gram of fiber in a 1-cup serving, brown rice has approximately 45 grams of carbohydrates, 0.7 gram of sugar and 3.5 grams of dietary fiber. The soluble and insoluble fiber in brown rice may lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, hemorrhoids and colon cancer.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 11356, Potatoes, Russet, Flesh and Skin, Baked
- Harvard School of Public Health: Move Over Potatoes, Make Room for Healthier School Lunch
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 20121, Spaghetti, Cooked, Enriched, Without Added Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 20125, Spaghetti, Whole-Wheat, Cooked
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Grains - Why Is It Important to Eat Grains, Especially Whole Grains?
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 18069, Bread, White, Commercially Prepared (Includes Soft Bread Crumbs)
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 18075, Bread, Whole-Wheat, Commercially Prepared
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 09040, Bananas, Raw
- New Mexico Department of Health: Healthy Diet - End the Guesswork with These Nutrition Guidelines
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 19335, Sugars, Granulated
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Calories - What are Emtpy Calories?
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 20045, Rice, White, Long-Grain, Regular, Cooked
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 20037, Rice, Brown, Long-Grain, Cooked
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber - Essential for a Healthy Diet
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.