Carbohydrates—good or bad? The question has been put in the pendulum over the past decade—swinging back and forth between the pros and the cons. With a variety of fad diets in circulation today, I am here to dispel disclaimers and address why it is so important to consume this macronutrient on a day-to-day basis.

Carbohydrates Are An Essential Source of Energy

Dipa Halder

Dietary carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. At about 4 kcal per gram, carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, absorbed by the bloodstream, and used by the body to fuel all of your daily activities. The brain is the exclusive organ in the body whose primary main energy source is sugar, which can be derived from dietary carbohydrates. Without sugar from carbohydrates, the brain would not be able to generate nerve impulses, the body would not be able to perform at its best, and you would feel grumpy most of the time!

Reap the Benefits of Fiber

cereal, wheat, corn, pasture, oat, oatmeal, barley, hands, handful, handful of oats, grain, Rolled oats
Jocelyn Hsu

"Good and bad" carbohydrates can be determined based on the fiber content. Fiber cannot be digested or absorbed by humans, but is an important part of the digestive process of the GI tract. Fiber essentially slows the absorption of the sugars found in the carbohydrates consumed, helps lower blood cholesterol, and adds to satiety. 

Everything in Moderation

Dipa Halder

While some carbohydrates are more nutritionally dense than others, a PB&J sandwich on white bread or donut is perfectly OK to reach for every once in awhile. These carbohydrates, also known as simple carbs, are refined grains that have been stripped of their natural outer bran layers containing fiber. These foods include white breads, donuts, muffins, chocolate bars—all of which contain refined grains and sugars that lead to spikes in blood glucose levels. 

The Nutritionally Dense Carbs

Dipa Halder

In contrast to simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates increase the amount of time it takes for your stomach to empty after eating. As a result, foods such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and vegetables will keep you feeling more full and prevent spikes in your blood sugar. These carbs are packed with natural fibers, vitamins, and minerals that will nurture the body and keep you feeling strong. 

The Truth

All calories do not contribute equally to energy balance. The answer lies in the idea of the thermic effect of food. The thermic effect of food, or diet induced thermogenesis, is the amount of energy the body utilizes to break down the macronutrients ingested by the body. Studies show that the body typically utilizes the most energy to break down macronutrients in the sequence of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. 

According to Dr. William Evans, a professor at UC Berkeley's department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, a high carbohydrate (ad libitum) diet produced results in individuals including a one pound per week weight loss, no reduction in basal metabolic rate, no attempt at caloric restriction, and an improvement in insulin sensitivity, leading to a reduced risk of Type II diabetes. Hence, eating carbohydrates is not "fattening." Any energy source consumed in excess will contribute to weight gain. The amount and type of carbohydrate consumed can affect how easily body weight is managed.

So next time you are feeling low on energy, reach for that piece of whole grain toast, a roasted sweet potato, or some brown rice to stabilize your blood sugar and keep your body feeling nourished and energized!