Are Carbs Bad for Your Heart? The Best (and Worst) Carbs to Eat

Experts used to think fatty foods were the only parts of the average American diet contributing to high rates of heart disease. Now, it’s widely accepted that an overall unhealthy diet, regardless of what goes into it (or doesn’t), hurts your heart.

Whether you want to blame salt, fat, calories, or carbs, the bottom line is, eating too much of the wrong stuff will never end well. This includes carbs — but only a certain kind.

Are carbs bad for you?

Doughnuts

Doughnuts | iStock.com/Ozgur Coskun

Are the carbs you’re referring to simple or complex?

Simple carbs (candy, soda, baked goods) have little nutritional value and tend to be high in both carbs and calories. They digest quickly and provide short bursts of energy that don’t last.

Complex carbs (whole grains, veggies) are more nutritious and tend to be low in carbs and calories compared to most snack foods and desserts. They digest slowly due to their fiber content and provide energy for longer periods of time.

In most cases, complex carbs are healthy, while simple carbs are not. So when you hear that “carbs are bad,” what you’re really hearing is that processed foods and sweets aren’t good for you. No health expert would ever tell you vegetables or whole grains are bad. Some carbs just might be better than others.

The worst carbs you can eat

The worst carbs are the ones that leave you feeling hungry and dissatisfied. Sure, that cake probably tasted great two minutes ago, but it doesn’t feel so great now. And if you’ve ever wondered why chocolate doesn’t fill you up, it’s because there’s nothing in it to tell your brain to stop telling you to eat more

Examples of simple, unhealthy carbs include:

  • White bread, rice, and pasta
  • Chocolate bars and other candy
  • Baked goods, such as breakfast pastries, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, and brownies
  • Fruit juice and sugar-sweetened sodas.

These carbs are not your friend. And while it’s OK to enjoy them in small amounts or every once in a while, too many of them will likely lead to weight gain and related health issues. This isn’t good for your head, and it’s definitely not good for your heart.

Best carbs for your heart

Steamed vegetables

Steamed vegetables | zeleno/iStock/Getty Images

Keeping your heart healthy isn’t usually as simple as eating all the “right” foods. However, a diet rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and start you on the right track to maintaining a healthier heart.

When thinking about heart-healthy carbs, think mostly about plants. Naturally, plants lack the added fat, sugar, and sodium often associated with an increased risk of heart disease. They also contain plenty of fiber and, in some cases, protein.

Try eating more:

  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens (spinach, broccoli), squash, and sweet potatoes
  • Whole grains, including quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal
  • Some fruit, such as apples, bananas, and berries
  • Beans and legumes
  • Greek yogurt.

Some additional dairy products are also good for your heart, such as some cheeses. The less processing a food goes through before it gets to your fridge, freezer, or pantry, the better it probably is for you.