In the wake of popular protein-heavy diets such as South Beach and Atkins, some people still consider carbohydrates to be the enemy. But it's important to remember that there actually are two types of carbs: complex carbs and simple carbs, otherwise known as good carbs and bad carbs. And while the bad ones can be safely cut out of your diet, it's important to eat the good ones.

While all carbohydrates are converted into sugar once inside our bodies, complex ones are digested slowly and cause a kinder, gentler rise in our blood sugar. They generally don't cause blood-sugar "spikes" (and subsequent crashes) like simple carbs do. Good carbs provide our bodies with needed fuel and help our organs function properly. By adding good carbs to your diet while keeping the bad ones out, you'll find it easier to drop excess weight, raise your energy levels, and reduce your risk for diabetes.

You may have heard of the glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly particular foods are turned into sugar inside our bodies. Foods high on the glycemic index, such as processed cakes and cookies, are converted into sugar rapidly, while lower-glycemic foods such as fiber cereals and dense, grain-heavy breads take the slow road. Whenever possible, stay on the low end. But you don't have to subsist on bunless burgers or grilled chicken breasts. You can take a pass at the bread basket and indulge at your favorite pasta parlor. You just have to make smart decisions each time you eat.

Whole grains are always a good choice, especially in the morning. Skip the processed white bread and go for whole wheat toast. Fruit is great, too, especially in its whole form. If you're used to downing a glass or two of orange juice, try slicing up an orange, instead. Other smart swaps include: 

  • Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes
  • Brown rice instead of white rice
  • Whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta
  • Whole grain cereal instead of sugary, fiberless cereal
  • Steel-cut oats instead of a plain bagel

Don't forget about beans, which are a great source of complex carbohydrates—and be sure to make vegetables a mainstay of your diet as well.