When you hear the word “carbohydrates” you most likely automatically assume the worst – but did you know that not all carbs are considered bad for your health? In fact, the body needs carbohydrates in order to properly function. For example, the brain needs carbohydrates for energy, while they also help to maintain healthy blood glucose levels and restore something known as muscle glycogen following physical activity. So, if you’re wondering if all carbs are bad, the short answer is no. At the same time, not all carbs are good for you either, so we’ll break down the good vs. bad below.
Carbohydrates are separated into two main categories:
1. Sugars (also known as “simple carbohydrates”)
2. Starches (also known as “complex carbohydrates”)
Sugars, or “simple carbohydrates” as they’re more commonly known, are the bad kind of carb that you should typically avoid. Examples of these kinds of carbohydrates include molecules of simple sugars or monosaccharides like fructose, glucose and galactose. When formed together, they are known as disaccharides (table sugar, for example.) Refined sources of simple carbs and things that you should typically avoid or significantly limit from your diet include sodas, baked goods, packaged cookies, breakfast cereals, and fruit juice concentrate.
Starches, or “complex carbohydrates” (also referred to as polysaccharides), are broken down by the body and turn glucose into energy. Unlike simple carbs, which contain little to no nutritional value, complex carbs are considered to be high in nutrients and also help you digest food more slowly which can decrease feelings of hunger, and therefore be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight. Dietary fibre is also considered a starch, and can be found in things like whole grains, nuts, beans, and of course fruits and vegetables – apples, berries, bananas, carrots, broccoli, and leafy greens in particular. Other starch sources include corn, oats, peas, rice, and whole wheat bread. Along with helping with weight loss, complex carbs are also ideal for individuals with type 2 diabetes as they will help you to manage your blood sugar following meals, and even protect against cardiovascular problems.
The higher quality carbohydrates you consume, the better. Examples of high-quality carbs are those that are plant-based. Lower quality carbs may be fortified with certain vitamins and minerals, but they’re often lacking in essential nutrients and also include added sugar, sodium and fat, as well as preservatives in effort to improve both taste and shelf-life and are not typically foods that you should consume on a regular basis – or at all. The quality of carbohydrates you eat can also have both positive and negative effects on your health. Lower quality, simple carbs tend to digest more rapidly, which means you could also have a rapid spike in blood sugar as a result. You’re also more likely to develop hunger more quickly, while complex carbs have the opposite effect.
As for the amount of carbohydrates you need to consume every day, this depends on a number of factors, including your current weight, age, gender and height, as well as your activity level. You burn more energy the more physically active you are, which means you’ll need more calorie/carbohydrate intake. However, you should also look at other options for dietary sources of energy aside from just carbohydrates, such as protein, eggs, and even drinking water.