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Refined vs. Unrefined Carbohydrates

By Jeffrey Traister

Carbohydrates are macronutrients in foods that provide energy to your body. Yet the type of carbohydrate you eat can differ in how it impacts your health. Foods contain either refined or unrefined carbohydrates. Although each type of carbohydrate provides 4 calories per g, the nutritional content of each food item differs. Consult your doctor about your diet and the pros and cons of eating refined vs. unrefined carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber. Sugars are simple one- or two-sugar molecules, whereas starches and fiber can contain hundreds of sugar molecules. Many types of foods contain carbohydrates, including bread, pasta, corn, potatoes, fruit, cookies and pies. After eating carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into single sugar molecules and converts them to glucose, the sugar molecule your cells use to metabolize into energy. Your body does not digest fiber, yet it’s an indigestible substance that may help you reduce the amount of cholesterol you absorb, slow down the absorption of sugar from foods into your body and accelerate the passage of waste through your intestines.

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are processed grains. During the milling process, manufacturers strip away the bran and germ and pulverize the endosperm of the grain, making the final product easier to chew and digest. Manufacturers prefer processing grains because it increases shelf life. Yet the processing removes a significant portion of nutrients from the grain, including 50 percent of the B vitamins, 90 percent of vitamin E and almost all of the fiber content. Increased dietary intakes of refined carbohydrates, such as corn syrup, concomitant with decreased intakes of fiber are trends that parallel the epidemic prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the United States, according to research by scientists at Inter-Medic Medical Group in North Port, Florida, and published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in May 2004.

Unrefined Carbohydrates

Whole grains are unrefined carbohydrates. Whole grains retain the entire seed kernel of the food which includes the brans, germ and endosperm. Whole grains are a nutrient-dense food that contains high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Eating whole grains improves your diet quality and health. Children and adolescents who consume the most servings of whole grains have better diet quality and nutrient intake according to research by scientists at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge and published in "Public Health Nutrition" in February 2011.

Body Fat

The type of carbohydrate you eat can impact your body fat. Research by scientists at the USDA and Tufts University in Boston and published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in November 2010 discovered that higher intakes of refined grains are associated with higher visceral fat, whereas increasing whole-grain intake is associated with lower visceral fat in adults. The results demonstrate the risk of eating refined carbohydrates and the benefit of eating unrefined carbohydrates.

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