Are carbs bad for you?

Carbs get a bad rap. We are taught to avoid foods high in carbohydrates, but the reality is that carbohydrates are essential to a balanced diet. about 45% to 65% of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Some are often called “good” and others “bad,” because not all carbs are created equal when it comes to your nutrition. It helps to understand why some carbs are less healthy than others, so you shouldn’t dismiss the category altogether.

Part of the reason there is a growing obesity epidemic in the United States is that the typical American diet is high in refined carbohydrates, such as those found in fast food and white bread. “When we look at the standard American diet, we’re eating a very high amount of refined carbohydrates and very little of complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables,” he explains. Julie Smith, RD., a registered dietitian at the University of Toledo Medical Center. “We need to fill half of our plate with fruits and vegetables, then a quarter with some kind of lean protein, and then limit those carbohydrate options to the other quarter of our plate.”

What are refined carbohydrates?

Refined carbohydrates are sugars and starches that have been altered in the process of making them into packaged foods. They originally come from natural whole grains, but are heavily processed to remove the outer shell and the seed part of the grain. After grinding the grain, you’re left with better-tasting carbohydrates and food with a longer shelf life.


Removing parts of the grain also removes almost all essential vitamins, nutrients and dietary fiber. “The outer part is actually what gives our body all the nutrition that the grains give us and all the fiber, so they processed it to get that out,” says Smith.

You can find refined carbohydrates in white bread, pizza dough, corn flakes and rice.

What is the difference between complex carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates?

If refined carbohydrates are the “bad” ones, complex ones are the “good” ones. Complex carbohydrates provide nutrients and fiber that the body needs to sustain itself.

“We need to make sure at least half of our carbs are complex carbs, like whole grains and sweet potatoes, and really try to limit those refined carbs to 50% of our total carbs for the day,” she says Smith. You can find complex carbohydrates in oatmeal, brown bread, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.

Why should refined carbohydrates be limited?

Refined carbs do little to keep your body running smoothly.

You will miss out on essential nutrients

Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. These may include:

  • B vitamins: maintain healthy brain activity and cell function
  • Iron: Helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body
  • Fiber: helps with digestion and keeps you full
  • Potassium: Regulates blood pressure and supports muscle and nerve activity
  • Magnesium: Helps support muscle and nerve activity and helps convert nutrients in food into energy
  • Folate: Also known as vitamin B9, removes an amino acid called homocysteine which at high levels can harm the body
  • Selenium: A mineral that protects against cell damage

You are more likely to have digestive problems

It depends on your gut bacteria fiber for fuel. Without fiber to feed on, your gut microbiome loses its diversity as all sorts of bacteria die off, including those that promote good health in your body.

Fiber in whole grains or pasta can also promote healthy bowel movements and relieve constipation.

Avoiding refined carbohydrates can help keep chronic disease at bay

A diet high in refined carbohydrates is associated with:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • early death
  • obesity
  • Poor metabolic health
  • fatigue
  • Increased cholesterol

Benefits of healthy (complex) carbohydrates

You’ll feel full without overeating

Since refined carbohydrates remove fiber, they don’t fill you up as much as whole foods; eating a lot of refined carbohydrates can lead to overeating. “Oatmeal or a slice of wholemeal bread has complex carbohydrates that take longer for your body to digest and will keep you full until your next meal,” says Smalling. Fiber also releases a chemical called acetate which sends a message to your brain that you are full.

If you’re looking for a snack between meals, Smalling recommends slices of fruit or vegetables. Both have complex carbohydrates and are high in fiber.

Maintains constant blood sugar levels

All carbohydrates are made up of sugar, but it’s the chemical structure between refined and complex that makes the difference. Refined carbohydrates only have one sugar molecule, while complex carbohydrates have long chains of sugar molecules. The body breaks down both types of carbohydrates and turns them into glucose for energy. However, Smalling says that breaking down a long chain of sugar takes time, raising blood sugar, but at a slow and steady rate.

It makes your brain work

Your brain runs on carbohydrates, specifically the nutrients in carbohydrates. Magnesium and potassium help neurons send messages to brain cells through electrical activity. Magnesium also helps overexcited neurons fire signals frequently to calm down, returning them to a resting state. “The first choice of energy for your nerve cells is carbohydrates. Why would you want to deprive your brain and nerves of the energy they need?” explains Smalling.

How to choose complex carbohydrates

Both experts agree that reading food labels is the best way to choose foods rich in complex carbohydrates. You want to pay special attention to the fiber content. “In the United States, people need to replace nutrients lost in refined carbohydrates. You’ll often see on the label that a product is fortified with niacin, riboflavin, and iron, but food brands don’t usually add fiber, and that’s one of the main nutrients you end up losing,” he explains. small Even if a whole grain product like brown rice only has a few grams of fiber, it’s still better than white rice, which has even less.

The bottom line: Carbs are an important part of any healthy diet, and dietitians agree that complex carbs are better for you than refined carbs. If you think you may need to adjust your diet for more energy or better overall health, consider seeing a nutritionist. They can help you establish a nutrition plan that works best for you.