Why Simple Carbs or Refined Carbs are Unhealthy?

Unhealthy Carbs

Unhealthy Carbs, Refined Carbs, and Simple Carbs are terms used here synonymously.

The use of refined carbs has been linked with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, hence they are also called “Unhealthy Carbs”

Carbohydrates are generally an essential part of your nutritious diet. They compose almost 55% to 65% of your daily meals.

However, these carbs are not healthy in some forms. Whole carbohydrates that are loaded with their natural nutrition take the crown for being able to give you wholesome energy.

On a side note, the unhealthy forms of these carbs are refined ones.


What are Simple Carbs or Refined Carbs?

Known as both refined and simple carbs, they have another term for themselves ‘processed carbs’. These simple carbs come in two forms, namely sugars and grains.

Refined sugars consist of:

  • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),
  • table sugar (sucrose), and
  • agave syrup.

Refined grains include:

  • white rice or white pasta etc.

These refined carbs are devoid of the nutrients that they had in their whole form. Such nutrients include fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They can be termed as empty calories as they have no nutrition but a lot of calories.

They are specifically unhealthy for diabetics as they cause a rise in blood sugar levels and insulin. They are quickly digested as they are devoid of fiber.

They are a part of a bunch of processed foods in the market and their common sources are pastries, pasta, white bread, white flour, etc.

The table below shows some examples of Simple Carbs and Complex Carbs:

Carb Type


Simple Carbs
  • Table sugar (sucrose)
  • Candy and sweets
  • Soda and sugary drinks
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Fruit juices (without fiber)
  • Pastries and cakes
  • Jams and jellies
Complex Carbs
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Beans (e.g., black beans, kidney beans)
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Vegetables (e.g., broccoli, spinach)
  • Whole corn



Simple Carbs (Refined Carbs) are Striped of all Fiber and Nutrients:

The outermost layer (bran) has fiber along with vitamins and minerals, the middle layer (endosperm) has only starchy carbs and a few other nutrients, and the innermost layer (germ) is loaded with phytochemicals and whatnot.

Whole carbs have their germ and bran removed and are then categorized as simple carbs.

The bran and germ contain some of the most important vitamins and minerals.

All three sections of the kernel are present in whole grains. The bran and germ are generally removed during refining, leaving only the endosperm.

About 25% of a grain’s protein is lost when the bran and germ are removed, and at least seventeen important components are substantially decreased.

Processors enhance refined grains with vitamins and minerals, so refined grains still provide vital nutrition.

Whole grains, on the other hand, are healthier since they contain more protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.

The most emphasized nutrient lost in the processing of whole grains is fiber, it has its designated place in a healthy and balanced diet where it protects against illnesses, infection, and even cancer.

Fiber can even normalize blood sugar levels which makes whole grains a better option for diabetics. [Ref].

simple vs complex carbs
simple vs. complex carbs

Intake of Simple Carbs (Unhealthy Carbs) is Linked With Obesity

There is a high consumption of processed foods as they are more conveniently accessible and made than whole foods.

These processed food items include simple carbs as well. They have a clear-cut role in promoting obesity and here is how it occurs.

According to studies, the quality of carbs, not the quantity, determines whether or not a person gains weight and develops obesity.

So, if you’re prone to gaining weight, stay away from white bread, pasta, chips, processed meals, cakes, and cookies.

This is due to the high glycemic index of those foods, which results in a rapid rise in blood sugar. If the body does not use the extra blood sugar, it stores it as fat.

Blood sugar levels drop for an hour or two after eating a meal high in refined carbohydrates. This stimulates reward and craving-related parts of the brain, which increases hunger.

These signals have been related to overeating because they make you desire to eat more  [Ref]

These simple carbs have their link to initiating inflammation which is evident in obese individuals and they may also contribute to leptin resistance as concluded by long-term studies [Ref]


Refined Carbs (Unhealthy Simple Carbs) May Increase the Chances of Heart Disease & Diabetes

A frequent condition is type 2 diabetes, which affects around 300 million individuals globally, heart disease is another extremely frequent and is currently the world’s leading cause of death.

Diabetics with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease.

In research, increased refined carbohydrate consumption has been linked to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels. These are some of the most prevalent type 2 diabetes indications and symptoms.

Triglyceride levels in the blood are also raised by refined carbohydrates. Both heart disease and type 2 diabetes are linked to this condition.

A study has also concluded that people who ate refined carbs had a 2 to 3 times higher chance of getting heart attacks than people who did not eat refined carbs [Ref].


How To Cut Back on Refined/ Simple Carbs (Unhealthy Carbs)?

Some whole foods that are high in carbohydrates are particularly healthy. These are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other plant chemicals that are useful.

Carbohydrates can be found in vegetables, fruit, legumes, root vegetables, and whole grains like oats and barley.

There is no reason to avoid these items just because they contain carbs unless you are on a carb-restricted diet.

A variety of bread, particularly whole grain bread, contains vitamins and minerals. Unrefined whole-grain bread is also a complex carb, meaning it takes longer to digest and affects blood sugar levels gradually.

Consuming a lot of refined carbohydrates might have a number of harmful health consequences. Carbs, on the other hand, aren’t all terrible as described above.

Another important point is that the carbohydrate amounts of packaged foods can be seen on food labels.

It’s also crucial to pay attention to serving sizes, especially when consuming foods that are abundant in sugar (simple carbohydrates) and have smaller serving sizes than many people are used to.

For example, cereal packaging and advertisements commonly exaggerate serving sizes, making it easy for people to consume many servings at once.

If you enjoy carbs but are attempting to lose weight, focusing on high-protein foods is one of the best methods to keep yourself full.

You may also obtain the added benefit of weight loss by emphasizing meals that are higher in protein (while still supplementing your diet with complex carbohydrates).


Comparing Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs:


Simple Carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates

StructureConsists of one or two sugar molecules (monosaccharides and disaccharides).Composed of long chains of sugar molecules (polysaccharides).
DigestionRapidly digested and absorbed, leading to quick energy spikes.Digest more slowly, providing a sustained release of energy.
Blood SugarCan cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, leading to cravings and hunger.Tend to have a more gradual impact on blood sugar levels, helping to maintain stable energy.
Fiber ContentLow or negligible fiber content.Typically high in fiber, it promotes digestive health and fullness.
Nutrient DensityOften lack essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.Can be rich in essential nutrients and fiber, promoting overall health.
Health ImplicationsAssociated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease when consumed in excess.Associated with improved weight management and reduced risk of chronic diseases.
SourcesFound in sugary snacks, candy, soda, and processed foods.Found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
SatietyProvide a short-lived feeling of fullness.Promote a longer-lasting feeling of satiety and reduced snacking.
PerformanceMay provide a quick burst of energy but can lead to fatigue and energy crashes.Support sustained energy for physical and mental performance.
Dietary RecommendationsShould be consumed in moderation to avoid blood sugar spikes and excessive calorie intake.Should be a primary source of carbohydrates in a balanced diet.



What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

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