Setting the Record Straight: 4 Facts about Carbohydrates
I am sure we have all heard it before: “Carbs are bad for you, “Carbs make you fat.” The media and diet culture has led people to believe that carbohydrates are the enemy. Diet culture refers to a set of beliefs that values appearance above health and well-being. It is important that you learn the facts before you fall victim to this myth.
Carb Fact #1: Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source
When you consume carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into simple sugars which are absorbed in the bloodstream. These are known as blood sugars or blood glucose. Next, the pancreas releases insulin – a hormone that moves glucose into the cells and converts it to energy1. Your body uses this energy to fuel your brain, muscles, and any activity you perform; whether you’re running a marathon, or simply breathing.2.
Carb Fact #2: Different types of carbohydrates react differently in the body
- Simple carbohydrates– these types of carbohydrates are found in foods that are processed, refined, or contain added sugars and lack nutritional value. When consumed, simple carbohydrates are digested very quickly and cause a spike in glucose levels. This is why you may feel a rush of energy followed by fatigue when the glucose is depleted3.
- Examples: candy, regular soda, juice, syrups, foods with added sugar (donuts, cakes, cookies, etc), and refined grains such as white flour or white rice
- Complex carbohydrates- these types of carbohydrates are found in foods that have not been processed, which means they retain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs to function3.
- Examples: oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, and 100% whole grain bread or pasta, fruits, milk, and starchy vegetables3. These carbohydrates benefit the body by providing vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fiber.
Carb Fact #3: Carbohydrates have many benefits
Whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Whole grains and beans have a higher fiber content compared to fruits and vegetables, but all sources of fiber contribute other significant nutrients. Fiber has many benefits. It can help reduce cholesterol, which helps prevent heart disease. It is essential for a healthy digestive tract and helps keep you full longer, aiding in weight management. Fiber is the fuel source for the good bacteria that lives in your gut and together they produce short chain fatty acids which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties4. Carbohydrates provide a rich source of polyphenols. Polyphenols are the colors in your foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. As with the short chain fatty acids, these also provide powerful anti-inflammatory components that are crucial for good health7.
Carb Fact #4: Harsh effects of carb restriction
Without whole grains, fruits, or starchy vegetables you are robbing yourself of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. When carbs are restricted, intakes of vitamin A, C, K and folate are usually low5. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the brain and muscles. Lack of intake could lead to muscle loss, headaches, and low energy levels. Eliminating anything from your diet for the rest of your life will likely cause cravings, especially eliminating an entire food group6. Limiting carbohydrates is a very restrictive and unsustainable diet. I mean, do you really want to go your entire life without eating bread? I wouldn’t. Work with a registered dietitian at The Nutrition Professionals to destroy dieting myths like this one and begin adding carbohydrates to your life in a healthy way.
- American Heart Association. Carbohydrates. www.heart.org. Published 2010. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates
- Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet – Mayo Clinic. www.mayoclinic.org. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705?p=1
- Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber. www.heart.org. Published 2016. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber
- Ellis E. Fiber. www.eatright.org. Published November 3, 2020. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/fiber
- Gordon B. What is the Ketogenic Diet? eatright.org. Published May 15, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet
- Food Cravings | Winchester Hospital. www.winchesterhospital.org. Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=13944
- Tangney CC, Rasmussen HE. Polyphenols, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Disease. Current Atherosclerosis Reports. 2013;15(5). doi:10.1007/s11883-013-0324-x