Foods High in Carbs and Calories

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on January 05, 2023
7 min read

Carbohydratesare a macronutrient — one of the three primary ways the body takes in energy. Carbs are starches, sugars, and fibers found in grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. Carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet, but they can be harmful in excess. 

 Throughout the day, carbs provide energy for the central nervous system and working muscles in the body. You should eat carbohydrates in the form of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some dairy products can be a healthful, nutrient-dense source of carbs. It is recommended that you keep your added sugar intake under 25% when consuming carbs.

Carbs are an excellent source of energy for active people, but sedentary people should moderate their carbohydrate intake to maintain a healthy weight. The recommended daily amount of carbs for the average adult is 130 grams, or between 45% and 65% of your total calorie intake.  

High-carb diets have been connected to a higher risk of chronic disease, decreased physical activity, and obesity. However, carbohydrate quality has been shown to play a more critical role in health than the amount of carbs.  

Carbs from processed grains and added sugars may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. When grains are processed, or refined, many nutrients and most of the fiber are removed, leaving a grain that has a longer shelf life but is less healthy than a whole grain. Processed grains include white breads, white rice, cakes, crackers, and similar. 

Carbs such as whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, and legumes have been shown to be healthful. 

Carb intake from processed grains and added sugars may increase the risk of:

Metabolic disease 

Research shows that a diet of excessive carbs may cause a higher occurrence of metabolic disease. Metabolic disease, or metabolic syndrome, is a group of risk factors that contribute to heart disease and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome’s risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol (the “good cholesterol”), and belly fat.  


Research shows that a starchy, high-carb diet may lead to decreased physical activity, and, ultimately, increased weight gain. Excessive weight gain can lead to obesity. 


High-carb diets from sugary and starchy sources have been shown to lead to increased weight gain. Excessive weight gain can raise the occurrence of diabetes. 

Cardiovascular disease 

Diets that are high in carbohydrates, especially from high-starch and high-sugar foods, may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Many modern foods are packed with excessive carbohydrates, such as starchy foods or sugary drinks. These eight foods are some of the high-carbohydrate foods that should be avoided:

  1. Soft pretzel
    While delicious, the soft pretzel is a nutrition-poor source of carbohydrates. One medium soft pretzel contains 80 grams of carbs. One serving offers 27% of the daily recommended serving of carbohydrates. 
  2. Processed sugary cereal
    A sugary bowl of cereal is high in bad carbs, likely including both processed grains and processed sugar. While it may seem harmless, a bowl of cereal in the morning is a sugary, unhealthy way to start the day. Whole-grain cereals are power houses of nutrients.
  3. Canned fruit
    One serving of canned peaches in syrup provides 9% of the recommended serving of carbohydrates. This sugary snack would be better replaced with fresh fruit or canned fruit in 100% juice.
  4. Doughnuts
    Doughnuts are a popular morning treat, but one chocolate-frosted donut contains just under 30 grams of carbs. 
  5. Soda
    One glass of soda contains 26 grams of carbs. That may not seem like a lot, but carbs and sugars in the form of a beverage can add up quickly, as soda is one of the most common sources of empty calories. Studies show that people who drink soda are less likely to eat healthy sources of carbs.
  6. Potato chips and corn chips
    Whether you are a fan of potato chips or corn chips, it’s good to be aware that both contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Chips are also high in saturated fats and, often, sodium.
  7. Gummy candy
    Just 10 small gummy bears contain 22 grams of carbs. Treats like gummy bears can add up quickly when snacking and offer practically no nutritional value.
  8. French fries
    One medium-sized order of fries from a popular fast-food restaurant can yield 47 grams of carbs, providing 16% of your daily recommended carbohydrates. 

If you’re looking to lower your carb intake, here are a few healthy low-carb choices:

  • Eggs
  • Meat like beef, chicken, turkey, and venison
  • Seafood
  • Avocados
  • Fruits like strawberries, grapefruit, apricots, and olives
  • Vegetables and greens like mushrooms, asparagus, bell peppers, and kale
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts
  • Dairy products like cheese, butter, and Greek yogurt
  • Olive, coconut, or avocado oil
  • Baked goods made with almond or coconut flour, whole grain flour, oats and other whole grains

Many people associate calories with unhealthy eating, since some high-calorie foods are also high in fat and other unwanted ingredients that don’t contribute to a balanced, healthy diet. But calories are necessary and important for your health. 

A calorie is just a measure of energy. Many healthy foods are also high in calories; it’s not just junk food or fatty foods. It can be more helpful to focus on balancing the number of calories you take in with the calories you burn each day. And it’s often more important to pay attention to ingredients that might be harmful instead of just the calorie count.

Calories keep your body functioning. They provide your body with the energy to perform essential processes, keep you moving, and sustain your daily life. 

Some health conditions cause people to lose weight in unhealthy ways, including some types of cancer, eating disorders, depression or anxiety, AIDS, hyperthyroidism, and others. This unhealthy weight loss can cause a host of health risks. People with these conditions need to find foods that are high in calories to help them gain weight.

Foods can be prepared in ways that are good for you and not as good for you. Here are a few ways to spot healthier choices in each of these nutrient groups.


You may think you only get carbohydrates from pasta or bread, but carbs can also be in fruit, vegetables, and dairy. The most common forms of carbs come in fiber, starch, and sugar. 

Your body needs carbohydrates, but there are some types that are better than others. For instance, unprocessed (or minimally processed) carbs tend to be better for you than highly processed or refined carbs because they give you a lot of nutrients. Refined and processed carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar, which aren’t beneficial for your body over time.

Healthier choices: Swap out the white rice, a refined grain, in your paella or jambalaya for brown rice, a whole grain. (Other whole-grain rice options include red, purple, or black varieties.) You can do the same with cereal and breads by opting for whole-grain products. 


Fats are an important part of eating for optimal health. Some fats are more beneficial for your health than others. 

To make healthier fat choices: 

Go for unsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat can lower your risk for diseases. You’ll find them in nuts, seeds, and fish. You can also find these healthy fats in olive, canola, corn, sunflower, and soy oils.

Avoid trans fats: A lot of processed foods contain trans fats, particularly those that contain partially hydrogenated oil.  

Go easy on saturated fats: Some people consider saturated fats to be unhealthy, but they’re not as harmful as trans fats. They’re not as healthy as unsaturated fats, but you can still eat saturated fats in moderation. Foods with saturated fats include butter, cheese, and red meat. Palm oil and coconut oil also contain saturated fats. 

Healthier choices: Opt for olive oil instead of butter when sauteing vegetables or cooking pancakes to lower your saturated fat intake. There are about 7.3 grams of saturated fat in a tablespoon of butter, and 1.8 grams in olive oil.


There are many sources of protein, and like everything else, some are healthier for you than others. Picking foods carefully can help you make healthier choices.

Not all protein sources come from meat. People who don’t eat meat have many ways to get protein into their diets, such as from dairy, protein powder, beans, and whole grains.

Healthier choices: If you’re eating beef, for example, you can opt for lean or extra-lean 

cuts with lower fatcontent. You can find good sources of protein that offer other nutritional perks. For instance, broiled sirloin steak has about 33 grams of protein and 5 grams of saturated fat. The same size of grilled sockeye salmon delivers about 30 grams of protein, with just over a gram of saturated fat. A ham steak the same size can give you about 22 grams of protein, but it’s got a lot more sodium. Opt for lentils and you’ll get about half of the protein than the steak, but barely any fat.