Refined Carbs Food List: What About Them Is Bad? – Verywell Health

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Carbohydrates are an important energy source for the body. They provide essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Some types of carbs are more nutritious than others.

Refined carbs are carbohydrates processed to remove part of the grain kernel. Refined carbs are grains that are usually high in sugar. Processing carbs makes them feel softer. It also makes them last longer. However, this process strips the carbs of their nutrients and fiber. 

Common examples of refined carbs are white bread and pasta, dessert foods, and white rice. Eating a diet rich in refined carbs has been linked to an increased risk of experiencing obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. This article will provide an overview of refined carbs, including what they are, how they affect the body, and what to eat instead. 

Linda Raymond / Getty Images

In the past, refined carbs were referred to as “bad” carbs, while whole grains were known as “good” carbs. Labeling food in this way can be harmful and promote negative body image. 

What Are Refined Carbs vs. Other Types of Carbs?

Refined carbs are carbohydrates processed to remove part of the grain. Whole grains contain three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. The outer layer of the grain, known as the bran, contains fiber and B vitamins. The germ contains fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

During processing, the bran and germ are removed to leave only the endosperm. Examples of refined carbs that do not contain the bran or germ are white bread, pasta, and flour. 

Unlike whole grains, refined grains are digested very quickly. They typically have a high glycemic index, which means that they cause the blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Refined grains contain very little fiber, vitamins, or minerals. Rather, they are rich in rapidly digested starches. 

Reasons to Eat Less (or Avoid) Refined Carbs 

Complex carbs, like whole grains, are preferred over refined carbs. Uncontrolled or exclusive intake of refined carbs can lead to health problems over time. 

Studies show that eating refined carbs leads to spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. When your blood sugar increases quickly, your body must release higher amounts of insulin to bring it down. This causes a dip in blood sugar levels. Eating a diet rich in refined carbs may also increase the amount of body fat. 

These swings in blood sugar have been linked to an increased risk of food cravings and overeating. People who regularly eat a large amount of refined carbs tend to crave and eat more food because of these blood sugar changes. 

Research shows that eating a large amount of refined carbs over time increases your risk of insulin resistance (the body does not respond to insulin as it should) and chronically high blood sugar levels. 

Refined carbs also increase inflammation in the body. Increases in inflammation have been linked with several chronic conditions. 

Diets rich in refined carbs have been linked to the following chronic diseases:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer 

19 Popular Refined Carb Foods

Refined carbs are a popular part of the American diet and are featured in most grocery stores. Be on the lookout for foods that contain any of the following ingredients. 


Common foods high in refined carbs (unless made with whole grains) enjoyed at breakfast include:

  • Breakfast cereals 
  • Bagels
  • Muffins 
  • Waffles
  • Pancakes
  • Granola 
  • Breakfast pastries 

Snack Items

Snack foods that are rich in refined carbs include:

  • Crackers
  • Chips 
  • Cookies 
  • Cakes 
  • Candy 

Lunch and Dinner 

Refined grains that are often part of lunch or dinner include:

  • White bread
  • White rice 
  • Flour tortillas 
  • Pizza dough 


It is common to find refined carbs in ingredients like:

  • White flour
  • Corn syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • White sugar

What Are Simple Refined Carb Swaps?

Many people enjoy the taste and texture of refined carbs. Fortunately, several whole-grain options bring just as much flavor with more fiber and nutrients. 

If you are thinking about adding more whole grains to your eating plan, consider any of the following swaps.

Healthy Swaps

Refined Carbs

  • White bread

  • White pasta

  • White rice

  • Flour tortillas

  • Breakfast cereals

Whole Grains

  • Whole wheat, rye, or multigrain bread

  • Whole grain pasta

  • Brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa

  • Corn tortillas

  • Oatmeal

Overcoming Cravings 

It’s natural to experience cravings for refined carbs, especially if your body is used to eating them every day and you enjoy their flavor.

To start reducing your food cravings, try the following tips:

  • Eat nutrient-dense foods: Focus on nutritious, filling foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. These foods fill you up without spiking your blood sugar. 
  • Do not restrict food or calories: Make sure to eat when you are hungry. If you try to restrict your eating, your body may end up experiencing more cravings. 
  • Manage stress: There are many emotional reasons why we crave calorie-dense foods like refined carbs. Work with your healthcare provider to manage your stress and see a mental health provider if needed. 
  • Focus on sleep: Poor sleep can lead to food cravings. Focus on good sleep by incorporating sleep hygiene habits like going to bed at the same time every night and avoiding screens before bed. 


Refined carbs are carbohydrates that have been processed to remove key nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body. However, consuming a large amount of refined carbs can lead to health problems over time. 

Refined carbs tend to cause the blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Over time, this may increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart disease. 

Common examples of refined carbs include white bread, pasta, and rice. Other refined carbs include pastries, breakfast cereals, and crackers. To reduce your risk of chronic health conditions, consider swapping some of your usual refined carbs for healthier, whole-grain alternatives like whole-wheat bread, quinoa, and oatmeal.

17 Sources

Verywell Health 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.
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By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH

Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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