The Truth about Carbs

By Brandy Carrillo, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

Have you heard any of these phrases before?

Carbs cause weight gain

Fruit is bad because it’s high in carbs

Only “white” refined grains contain carbs

Within the diet world, carbohydrates have acquired a bad reputation and there are a plethora of misconceptions surrounding their role in a balanced diet. Certain diets call for a tight restriction on the amount of carbohydrates you consume, with claims that this can help your body burn fat and speed up your metabolism. I’m here to debunk all of these claims and prove to you that carbohydrates aren’t actually as bad as you may think.

All carbohydrates essentially do the same thing- they are converted into glucose for our body to use as a fuel source and in the process, raise our blood sugar levels. These sugars are extremely important for proper body functioning and are a crucial fuel source for your brain (which isn’t easily able to use other sources of energy, like protein or fat). When you limit your carbohydrate intake, you’re essentially depriving your body of its main source of fuel.

The difference in carbohydrate quality stems from how quickly these foods increase our blood sugar which all depends on the food’s fiber content. Fiber not only protects your gut health and digestion but also helps regulate glucose levels in the blood. Foods with higher amounts of fiber take longer to be digested and in turn, slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Because of this, refined carbs, which are stripped of this fiber and other nutrients, are digested a lot faster and can increase glucose levels very rapidly in comparison to whole grain foods.

The most important thing when eating carbs is not the amount but more so the type of carbohydrates you’re consuming. Carbohydrates are found in so many different foods (both “healthy” and “unhealthy”)

Foods that contain carbohydrates include:

  • Grains: pasta, rice, bread, crackers
  • Fruits and Vegetables: apples, oranges, broccoli, potatoes
  • Dairy: milk, yogurt
  • Legumes: beans, peas, lentils
  • Snack foods and desserts
  • Juices, sodas, energy drinks

While carbs are in almost all foods, it’s important to eat a balance between unprocessed whole foods high in fiber and other nutrients and the occasional more processed cookie or cereal.

So if all this true… then why do so many fad diets promote low carb?

While it’s true that a low carb diet can potentially lead to weight loss, this weight loss is usually not sustainable and can actually hurt more than help. When your body isn’t getting enough carbohydrates it’s forced to rely on fat and protein for energy. These types of diets are difficult to uphold in the long-term and can be detrimental if not done safely or without prior consultation from a dietitian.

Carbohydrates are a super important part of a healthy balanced diet. They are our body’s primary fuel source and can provide us with a variety of important nutrients. Even if your goal includes weight loss, they should be incorporated into your meal plan. Carbs should not be feared, they should be celebrated! How do you celebrate carbs?

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