The Deal With Carbs
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that make up the food we eat. The American Diabetes Association notes that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. Another point of interest is that carbohydrates are important for brain function. They are an influence on “mood, memory, etc., as well as a quick energy source.” In fact, the Recommended Daily Allowance of carbohydrates is based on the amount of carbs the brain needs to function.
Good carbs vs. bad carbs
Carbohydrates are found in foods you know are good for you (vegetables) and ones you know are not (doughnuts). This has led to the idea that some carbs are “good” and some are “bad.” According to Healthy Geezer Fred Cicetti, carbs commonly considered bad include pastries, sodas, highly processed foods, white rice, white bread and other white-flour foods. These are foods with simple carbs. Bad carbs rarely have any nutritional value.
Carbs usually considered good are complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes. These are not only processed more slowly, but they also contain a bounty of other nutrients.
The Pritikin Longevity Center offers this checklist for determining if a carbohydrate is “good” or “bad.”
Good carbs are:
- Low or moderate in calories
- High in nutrients
- Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
- High in naturally occurring fiber
- Low in sodium
- Low in saturated fat
- Very low in, or devoid of, cholesterol and trans fats
Bad carbs are:
- High in calories
- Full of refined sugars, like corn syrup, white sugar, honey and fruit juices
- High in refined grains like white flour
- Low in many nutrients
- Low in fiber
- High in sodium
- Sometimes high in saturated fat
- Sometimes high in cholesterol and trans fats
The right kind of carbs can be incredibly good for you. Not only are they necessary for your health, but they carry a variety of added benefits.
Though carbs are often blamed for weight gain, the right kind of carbs can actually help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. This happens because many good carbohydrates, especially whole grains and vegetables with skin, contain fiber. It is difficult to get sufficient fiber on a low-carb diet. Dietary fiber helps you to feel full, and generally comes in relatively low-calorie foods.
Good source of nutrients
Whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are well known for their nutrient content. Some are even considered superfoods because of it — and all of these leafy greens, bright sweet potatoes, juicy berries, tangy citruses and crunchy apples contain carbs.
One important, plentiful source of good carbs is whole grains. A large study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that those eating the most whole grains had significantly higher amounts of fiber, energy and polyunsaturated fats, as well as all micronutrients (except vitamin B12 and sodium). An additional study, published in 2014 in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, found that whole grains contain antioxidants, which were previously thought to exist almost exclusively in fruits and vegetables.
Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol, said Kelly Toups, a registered dietitian with the Whole Grains Council. The digestive process requires bile acids, which are made partly with cholesterol. As your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid, thereby reducing the amount of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.
Not getting enough carbs can cause problems. Without sufficient fuel, the body gets no energy. Additionally, without sufficient glucose, the central nervous system suffers, which may cause dizziness or mental and physical weakness, according to Iowa State University. A deficiency of glucose, or low blood sugar, is called hypoglycemia.
If the body has insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores, it will consume protein for fuel. This is problematic because the body needs protein to make muscles. Using protein for fuel instead of carbohydrates also puts stress on the kidneys, leading to the passage of painful byproducts in the urine, according to the University of Cincinnati.
People who don’t consume enough carbohydrates may also suffer from insufficient fiber, which can cause digestive problems and constipation.
-Complements to Jessie Szalay for much of this info. She contributed her word smiting to LiveScience
2019 04 29