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The Carbohydrate Debate: Are Carbs Good or Bad for You?

March 4, 2024

“My patients often tell me how proud they are because they’ve removed carbs from their diet, only for me to burst their bubble because they don’t have to remove carbs,” says registered dietitian Lia Ferranti, RD, with Atlantic Health System. “It's not healthy to remove an entire food group, especially for people with diabetes. They need those carbs!”

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Our body converts carbs into sugar, also known as glucose, and our body uses this as energy.

All Carbs Are Not Created Equal

There are two types of carbohydrates — simple and complex — and the quality of your carb choice matters. Simple carbohydrates are converted into sugar the quickest. Juice, soda, white bread, regular pasta, are all examples of simple carbs, which are also lower fiber foods. These elevate your blood sugar quickly because your body rapidly absorbs them.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates contain starch and fiber. Whole grain cereals and breads, potatoes, corn, peas, and all fruits are complex carbohydrates. For these foods, fiber is the star of the show because complex carbs are high in fiber and break down slowly in your body. This prevents your blood sugar from spiking.

Fiber Facts You Should Know

Fiber-rich carbohydrates add lots of nutritional benefits. They help lower cholesterol. They keep you fuller, longer. They keep your brain healthy and functioning properly. They make your bowel movements more regular. And they absorb more slowly into your body for sustained energy, as opposed to a temporary sugar boost for energy from simple carbs. This can be especially helpful in managing your blood sugar when you have diabetes.

“You should aim to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Fiber supplementation is not usually necessary,” says Lia. “If you eat whole grains, fruits and leafy green vegetables, you’ll also likely meet your fiber requirements from your diet alone.”

Why Do Carbs Have a Bad Reputation?

Many people take drastic measures to remove carbs from their diets because they think it will help them lose weight. But this is a myth. To lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit. That means you need to consume more calories than you burn — and the best way to do this is by combining high-fiber carbs, proteins and fats in every meal.

“When it comes to weight loss, removing carbs hurts more than it helps,” says Lia. “When you remove carbs from your diet, you restrict yourself, which can lead to overeating. It can also establish an unhealthy relationship with food, which leads to binge eating and cravings for junk foods and simple carbs.”

Making Peace with Carbohydrates

If you want your body to operate at its best, follow the plate method. Fill 1/4 of your plate, about the size of your fist, with carbohydrates, 1/4 of your plate with protein, and half of your plate with colorful, non-starchy vegetables that are low in carbs and calories, and higher in fiber.

“Including carbs with your meals and snacks helps keep your energy levels up, stabilizes your blood sugar, and keeps junk food cravings to a minimum,” says Lia. “If you’re trying to lose weight, pay attention to how much fat you’re consuming, because small portions of fats have large amounts of calories. For weight loss, focus on controlling your fat portions in your diet rather than removing carbs.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

  • Weight Loss
  • Healthy Living
  • Nutrition