The Good and Bad About Carbs

I hear a lot of discussion about the good and bad about carbs. Like anything in life, there is a good and bad side when we consider carbohydrates. I think it is helpful to first understand what a carbohydrate is, why we need them (the good about carbs) and what happens we intake the wrong types of carbohydrates (the bad about carbs).

Let’s get into it!

What is a carbohydrate?

If this is your first time on this page, welcome! You may have missed an earlier post, where we talked a little bit about carbohydrates. In the scientific sense, a carbohydrate consists of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Carbs are broken down to give us energy to fuel our muscles and keep our bodies running.

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which can be used for energy by the cells in our bodies. However, all carbohydrates are not broken down the same way. The way a carb is broken down is dependent upon what type of carb it is.

There are simple and complex forms of carbohydrates. Simple carbs are digested relatively quickly and consequently raise blood sugar quickly. Simple carbs can also be identified by having a high number on the glycemic index. (To learn more about the glycemic index, click here).

On the other hand, complex carbs take longer to digest and do not spike blood sugar levels as quickly as simple carbs. These are typically known as the healthier carbohydrates, and have low numbers on the glycemic index.

So, the short of it is- carbohydrates are molecules made of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, and break down to give our bodies efficient sources of energy.

The good about carbs

Carbs are great because they provide our body with energy, and can provide us that energy quickly. Compared to other molecules like fat, carbs give us energy rapidly. The process of turning fat into energy is similar in that the fat must be broken down to give energy to our cells, but the process of breaking down fat is much less efficient than breaking down carbs.

Ever hear of carb-loading? It is often what athletes do the night before a big game. I remember growing up, my soccer playing friends would always eat pasta the night before a game to ensure their bodies would have the necessary energy to make it though the game.

Ever hear of hiberation? It’s when bears eat a lot before winter! But it’s also a point of time in which bears can consume up to 4,000 calories per day, mostly from stored fat gained before hiberation. Fat allows for a VERY LONG source of energy, while carbs give us quick energy.

The good about carbs is that they give us fuel. Carbs keep our bodies going when we want to be active.

Complex carbs, things like oatmeal for example, have the added benefit of keeping cholesterol low and our hearts healthy.

The bad about carbs

The bad about carbs is dependent upon the type of carbohydrate. I think carbs get a bad reputation for making us overweight. It is true that too many simple carbs are bad for you.

Simple carbs will raise your blood sugar levels, increasing the chance of developing diabetes and weight gain. But the emphasis is on simple carbs.

When the energy from carbs are not used, the body will store this excess energy as fat for use later (remember the hibernating bears?)

Carbs are bad if the wrong types of carbs are consumed and consumed too frequently. So refined sugar, a simple carbohydrate, does not do the body any good. However, there’s no reason to fear the complex carbs that give us energy to live active lives.

How to find the balance

For me, the balance between good and bad carbs comes down to limiting simple carbs, especially refined sugar. Complex carbohydrates are an important part of a balanced diet, but should also be consumed with proteins and fats to provide your body with proper noursihment. The amount of carbs also depends on the type and intensity of physical activity. (I have no idea how many carbs pro NFL players need, because, well, I am not a pro NFL player).

At the end of the day, everyone’s dietary needs are specific and unique, but too many simple carbs will cause high blood sugar and could lead to diabetes.

Summing up the good and bad about carbs

In conclusion, the good about carbs is that they provide our body with energy. The bad about carbs is that simple carbs can cause diabetes. However, you can choose complex carbs over simple carbs everyday.

How do you balance the good and bad about carbs in your day to day life?


P.S.- Need a pocket guide for carbs? Check this out.

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