What’s wrong with them?

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

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

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

Linda Raymond/Getty Images

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

What are refined carbohydrates and other types of carbohydrates?

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

During processing, the bran and germ are removed to leave only the endosperm. Examples of refined carbohydrates that do not contain 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, meaning they increase blood sugar and insulin levels. Refined grains contain very little fiber, vitamins or minerals. Rather, they are rich in quickly digestible starches.

Reasons to eat less (or avoid) refined carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are preferred over refined carbohydrates. Uncontrolled or exclusive intake of refined carbohydrates can cause health problems over time.

Studies show that eating refined carbohydrates causes spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. When your blood sugar level rises rapidly, your body must release greater amounts of insulin to lower it. This causes a drop in blood sugar levels. Eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates can also increase the amount of body fat.

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

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

Refined carbohydrates also increase inflammation in the body. Increases in inflammation have been linked to several chronic diseases.

Diets high in refined carbohydrates have been linked to the following chronic diseases:

  • heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer

19 Popular Foods with Refined Carbs

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


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

  • breakfast cereals
  • bagels
  • muffin
  • waffles
  • Pancakes
  • Big wave
  • pastries for breakfast

Snack items

Snacks high in refined carbohydrates include:

  • pretzels
  • French fries
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Sweet

Lunch and dinner

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

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • flour tortillas
  • Pizza dough


It is common to find refined carbohydrates in ingredients such as:

  • White flour
  • Corn syrup
  • brown sugar
  • White sugar

What are simple refined carb swaps?

Many people enjoy the taste and texture of refined carbohydrates. Fortunately, several whole grain options provide the same flavor with more fiber and nutrients.

If you’re thinking about adding more whole grains to your eating plan, consider any of the following changes.

Healthy exchanges

refined carbohydrates

  • White bread

  • White paste

  • White rice

  • flour tortillas

  • breakfast cereals

Whole grains

  • Whole wheat, rye or multigrain bread

  • wheat pasta

  • Brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa

  • Corn tortillas

  • Oatmeal

Overcome cravings

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

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

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


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

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

Common examples of refined carbohydrates include white bread, pasta, and rice. Other refined carbohydrates include pastries, breakfast cereals, and crackers. To reduce your risk of chronic disease, consider swapping out some of your usual refined carbohydrates for healthier whole-grain alternatives, such as whole-grain bread, quinoa, and oats.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts contained in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we check the facts and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. American Heart Association. Carbohydrates.

  2. Bradley P. Refined carbohydrates, phenotypic plasticity, and the obesity epidemic. Medical hypotheses. 2019;131:109317. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2019.109317.

  3. Bhardwaj B, O’Keefe EL, O’Keefe JH. Carbohydrate Death: Added sugars and refined carbohydrates cause diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in Asian Indians. Mo Med. 2016;113(5):395-400.

  4. Penzavecchia C, Todisco P, Muzzioli L, et al. The influence of front-of-pack nutritional labels on eating and purchasing behaviors: A narrative review of the literature. Eating weight disorder. 2022;27(8):3037-3051. doi:10.1007/s40519-022-01507-2

  5. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Whole grains.

  6. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Carbohydrates and blood sugar.

  7. US Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.

  8. Clemente-Suárez VJ, Mielgo-Ayuso J, Martín-Rodríguez A, et al. The burden of carbohydrates on health and disease. Nutrients. 2022;14(18):3809. doi:10.3390/nu14183809

  9. Ludwig DS, Aronne LJ, Astrup A, et al. The carbohydrate-insulin model: a physiological perspective on the obesity pandemic. I’m J Clin Nutr. 2021;114(6):1873-1885. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqab270

  10. Pursey KM, Skinner J, Leary M, Burrows T. The relationship between addictive eating and dietary intake: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2021;14(1):164. doi:10.3390/nu14010164

  11. Foley PJ. Effect of low-carbohydrate diets on insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Opinion Curr Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2021;28(5):463-468. doi:10.1097/MED.00000000000000659

  12. Karimi E, Yarizadeh H, Setayesh L, et al. High carbohydrate intake may predict greater inflammatory status than high fat intake in overweight or obese premenopausal women: a cross-sectional study. BMC Resolution Notes. 2021;14(1):279. doi:10.1186/s13104-021-05699-1

  13. Harvard Health Publications. Foods that fight inflammation.

  14. US Department of Agriculture. What is MyPlate?

  15. Abdella HM, El Farssi HO, Broom DR, Hadden DA, Dalton CF. Eating behaviors and food cravings; influence of age, sex, BMI and FTO genotype. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):377. doi:10.3390/nu11020377

  16. Meule A. The psychology of food cravings: the role of food deprivation. Curr Nutr Representative. 2020;9(3):251-257. doi:10.1007/s13668-020-00326-0

  17. More JB, Mitchison D, Bowrey HE, James MH. Sleep dysregulation in binge eating disorder and “food addiction”: the orexin (hypocretin) system as a possible neurobiological link. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2021;46(12):2051-2061. doi:10.1038/s41386-021-01052-z

By Carrie Madormo, RN, Master of Public Health

Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with more than 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *