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Are Carbohydrates Good Or Bad For You?

Written By Emily White

Carbohydrates have been an issue that Nutritionists and Health experts have been debating on for years. Needless to say, carbs have been getting a bad reputation. This has only affected people's perspective on carbs, leading them to conclude only the worst about them.

This has led to an increase in diets that highly exclude or limit the number of carbs in their overall diet. Such diets often promise rapid weight loss by turning your body into a fat- burning motor.

Granted, there are some carbohydrates that we should limit or exclude in terms of intake. However, there are some that are very beneficial to the normal functioning of our bodies. Recent research confirms that our bodies rely on them as the main source of energy. Additionally, carbs contain certain nutrients that are essential to our overall health.

That said, should one eat carbohydrates? Are they bad for your health? Well, before we address those questions, let us first start by defining what carbohydrates are.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates form an essential part of our diet. They are part of the three macronutrients that form part of our normal diet. These macronutrients include carbohydrates, protein and fat.

Once consumed, there are broken down and later converted into glucose during the digestion process. The glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream for energy, acting as our main source of fuel.  In essence, carbohydrates help our bodies function properly on a day to day basis.

For instance, carbohydrates are essential for proper muscle work and development. The most important benefit that comes from consuming carbohydrates is that it supports brain activity. For our brain to function and continue to develop normally, it draws on the energy provided by broken down carbs; glucose. Unused carbs are often stored as fat for future use.

Carbohydrates, dietary carbohydrates that is, often include and can be divided into the below-listed categories:

  • Starches
  • Sugars: They include fructose, lactose, glucose and sucrose.
  • Fibre

That said, we've established that carbs are very beneficial. Yet, are all of them good for our bodies and our general health? Let us take a look.

Good Versus Bad Carbohydrates

When it comes to considering whether carbs are bad or not, one should keep in mind certain factors. One of them is that there are different types of carbohydrates. Hence, depending on the type you consume, the health effects will vary greatly.

That said, carbohydrates are often referred to as simple or complex carbohydrates. Let us take a look at each of them in detail.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs also referred to as whole carbs, consists of short-chain carbon molecules. According to the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,  Kim Larson, R.D., simple carbs are easy to break down. Hence, they are easily absorbed into the bloodstream to provide instant energy for the body.

This then leads to what is often termed a glucose spike. This is what often leads to sugar cravings and food addictions.

Simple carbohydrates include sugars. Kim Larson, R.D continues to state that sugar has no redeemable or beneficial qualities. In other words, they do not benefit the body in any way. Simple carbohydrates can be found in the following food items: brown sugar, fruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, fruits and honey just to name a few.

Recent research has revealed that sugar causes inflammation that encourages the development of life-threatening diseases. For example, high consumption of sugar can lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes, Cancer as well as other diseases.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are composed of long-chain carbon molecules that are harder to break down. Since they take longer to break down, they also take longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that glucose is released into the bloodstream at a slower and much more consistent rate.

Hence, unlike simple carbohydrates, they do not cause a spike and dip in your blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates include starch and fibre. Examples of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, legumes, rice, barley and pasta just to name a few. Such carbohydrates are high in nutritional value and leave you satiated for longer.

The Verdict

So, are carbohydrates bad or good? Simple carbohydrates include sugars such as fructose, glucose and so forth. Sugar, as we've previously stated, is of no nutritional value. In fact, it has been linked to the development of certain metabolic diseases.

However, not all simple carbohydrates are bad for you. For instance, fruits and vegetables. Indeed, fruits do contain a certain amount of sugar in them, but only basic forms of sugar. They contain fibre in them, as well as other essential mineral and vitamins.

You should, however; stay away from the following listed simple carbohydrates. The following can be termed as bad carbs.

  • Cookies
  • Soda
  • Cake
  • Energy Drinks
  • Desserts

Complex carbohydrates can be termed as good carbs, but not all of them. When choosing your complex carbohydrates, ensure that you stick to whole grains instead of processed ones. Processed ones are often stripped of any minerals, vitamins and other nutritional benefits.

Examples of good complex carbohydrates include:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Corn
  • Legumes
  • Whole wheat bread etc

All in all, there are some good carbs and some bad ones. You simply need to know what to look out for when selecting your carbs. Always read the labels of products that claim to whole grain and no processed. Also, always check the sugar content before purchasing them.

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