Refined Carbohydrates: List, Definition, Tips

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Refined carbohydrates, or refined carbs, are grain products that have been processed by a food manufacturer so that the whole grain is no longer intact. The refining or milling process removes dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If the nutrients are added back in, the refined grains or refined carbohydrates are called enriched grains. 

What Are Refined Carbohydrates?

In many nutritional settings, you hear experts talk about refined grains or refined carbs. This can be a confusing term because the term “refined” sounds healthy. But the definition of refined carbohydrates is tricky. Refined grains can be part of a healthy diet, but may not always the healthiest choice.

Food manufacturers often refine or process grains to create a food product that is softer and less bulky. White bread is made from refined grains and is an example of a refined carbohydrate food. White bread is softer and easier to eat than bulky whole grain bread and many consumers prefer the taste and texture.

So is white bread less healthy than whole grain bread? It can be. Food manufacturers may add nutrients back into refined carbohydrates like white bread to “enrich” the food’s nutritional value. You’ll see the words “enriched flour” or made with enriched grains” on these food labels. But those refined carbohydrates are still lacking healthy fiber—a nutrient that is provided by whole unrefined grains.

According to the USDA, enriched grain products can provide some nutritional benefit, but not when we overeat them. Refined carbohydrate foods are often high in calories and contain solid fats and added sugars (called “SoFAS”). The organization recommends that you replace refined carbs with whole grain foods for improved health.

Refined Carbs List

Many processed carbohydrates are sources of refined carbohydrates. You’ll find many of these products in the bread section of the grocery store and also in the aisles that contain snack foods and pasta products.

Common Sources of Refined Carbohydrates (List)

  • Pasta (especially white pasta)
  • White rice
  • Rice snacks
  • Crackers
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Bagels
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Soft sandwich bread 
  • Sweet bread
  • Baked desserts
  • Pastries
  • Pizza Dough
  • Hamburger or hot dog buns
  • Pancakes
  • Waffles

Not all foods on this list will contain refined grains. The best way to know is to check the ingredients list underneath the Nutrition Facts Label. Scan the list of ingredients below the label. If you see that the food contains enriched flour, then the carbohydrates have been refined.

Are Gluten-Free Foods Refined Carbs?

If you are following a special diet, such as a gluten-free diet, you should also be aware of refined carbohydrates. Gluten-free foods may be a source of refined carbohdyrates. For that reason, many experts recommend seeking out gluten-free whole grains if you are following a gluten-free diet.

Sources at the Gluten Intolerance Group advise their readers that “A whole grain has not been refined and stripped of important nutrients.” They go on to advise, “people following a gluten-free lifestyle should try to incorporate whole grains into their diets to get an adequate intake of fiber, minerals, and vitamins.”

Cut Back on Refined Carbohydrates

So how do you cut back on your intake of refined carbs to improve your health? The first step is to identify them in your diet. As you can see from the refined carbs list, they might be hiding in places that you wouldn’t imagine. For example, white sandwich bread is probably the most common source of refined carbs. You can learn to make a healthier sandwich with whole grain bread or even by getting creative with vegetables.

But what about refined grains that are found in other common foods. To improve your diet, replace refined grains with whole grains. Choose crackers that are made with whole wheat or a breakfast cereal that has been made with whole grains. You’ll also find pasta that is manufactured with whole grains. 

By replacing your refined carbohydrates with whole grains, you increase your dietary fiber intake. Eating more fiber provides several health benefits, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Boosting your fiber intake will help you to feel fuller longer and eat less throughout the day.

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