Are All Carbs Bad?

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CARBS GOOD OR BAD???

All foods are composed of 3 macro-nutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Their intake is measured in grams. Each gram of protein or carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories. Each gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.

Most people consume about half of their daily calories from carbs. For a 2000 calorie diet, that works to 1000 calories. Divided by 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, this equals 250 grams of carbs per day.

Is this good or bad?

The USDA recommends that 45-65% of our daily calorie intake should be from carbs, so 50% is well within that range. Does this seem counter-intuitive to you? Were you expecting a recommendation for a much lower daily carb count?

Before we address this perceived gap, let’s learn a bit more about the role of carbs in human nutrition. Carbohydrates are classified into 4 groups based on the length of their molecule chains:

  1. monosaccharides – single molecule carbs. The most famous is glucose, a basic  energy source for cells in our body

  2. disaccharides – such as table sugar, made of two molecules

  3. oligosaccharides – 3-10 molecules long

  4. polysaccharides – anything longer. These include starches and fibers.

A much easier way to classify carbs is:

  1. Good carbs

  2. Bad carbs

All carbs eventually break down into glucose for our body to use. The distinction between good and bad carbs is based on how fast the carb turns into glucose. Too fast and glucose spikes our bloodstream, which is unhealthy. It leads to a brief “sugar high” and then a prolonged low, which increase hunger and messes with insulin production as well.

So what are examples of good carbs?

You probably know the answer – good carbs are found in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, and foods made with whole grains.

And bad carbs?

Bad carbs can be found in soft drinks, white breads, cookies, and other processed foods. A can of soda has 40 grams of carbs!

Where does fiber fit into this story?

Dietary fiber is a type of long chain carbohydrate (polysaccharide). When it is present in a food, it takes the body longer to turn that food into glucose. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. It is indigestible. Most Americans consume less than half of the daily recommended amount of fiber.

Why do people go on low-carb diets?

When people go on “low-carb” diets, they drastically reduce their consumption bad carbs. As a result, they begin to feel better and improve on major health markers such as weight and blood glucose. This has spawned an entire industry of fad diets (Atkins, South Beach, etc…).

But sometimes people take it to an extreme and reduce their consumption of good carbs as well. Remember, our bodies use glucose as an energy source for muscles, the nervous system, and the brain. While muscles can store glucose for future use, the brain need a constant supply in order to function properly. Some is stored in the liver (as glycogen), but without continued replenishment, we run out of glucose within a day or two. In some cases, fat or protein can be converted into glucose, but not as effectively as conversion from carbs.

In fact, if the body gets no carbs, it starts to break down fats in order to produce glucose for the brain. While this may sound like a good idea, a side effect is the formation of ketone bodies that can cause ketosis. This is a condition with symptoms such as headaches, mental slowdown, dizziness and, interestingly, a fruity acidic breath. A prolonged state of ketosis may lead to more serious health issues.

OK, I’ll eat my carbs, but what if I eat too many?

Excess carbs will be stored as fat in the body.

How many carbs should I consume per day?

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on this. While the USDA recommends a range of 200-300 grams a day, many nutrition experts think this is too high because typically people will eat mostly refined carbs. That’s why you’ll see recommendations of 125-150 grams of carbohydrate from health professionals. Of course, these should be the good carbs, not the bad ones.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to find what carb proportion works for you. Consult a registered dietitian or health coach for more specific advice.

credit: galleryhip.com

All foods are composed of 3 macro-nutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Their intake is measured in grams. Each gram of protein or carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories. Each gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.

Most people consume about half of their daily calories from carbs. For a 2000 calorie diet, that works to 1000 calories. Divided by 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, this equals 250 grams of carbs per day.

Is this good or bad?

The USDA recommends that 45-65% of our daily calorie intake should be from carbs, so 50% is well within that range. Does this seem counter-intuitive to you? Were you expecting a recommendation for a much lower daily carb count?

Before we address this perceived gap, let’s learn a bit more about the role of carbs in human nutrition. Carbohydrates are classified into 4 groups based on the length of their molecule chains:

  1. monosaccharides – single molecule carbs. The most famous is glucose, a basic  energy source for cells in our body

  2. disaccharides – such as table sugar, made of two molecules

  3. oligosaccharides – 3-10 molecules long

  4. polysaccharides – anything longer. These include starches and fibers.

A much easier way to classify carbs is:

  1. Good carbs

  2. Bad carbs

All carbs eventually break down into glucose for our body to use. The distinction between good and bad carbs is based on how fast the carb turns into glucose. Too fast and glucose spikes our bloodstream, which is unhealthy. It leads to a brief “sugar high” and then a prolonged low, which increase hunger and messes with insulin production as well.

So what are examples of good carbs?

You probably know the answer – good carbs are found in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, and foods made with whole grains.

And bad carbs?

Bad carbs can be found in soft drinks, white breads, cookies, and other processed foods. A can of soda has 40 grams of carbs!

Where does fiber fit into this story?

Dietary fiber is a type of long chain carbohydrate (polysaccharide). When it is present in a food, it takes the body longer to turn that food into glucose. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. It is indigestible. Most Americans consume less than half of the daily recommended amount of fiber.

Why do people go on low-carb diets?

When people go on “low-carb” diets, they drastically reduce their consumption bad carbs. As a result, they begin to feel better and improve on major health markers such as weight and blood glucose. This has spawned an entire industry of fad diets (Atkins, South Beach, etc…).

But sometimes people take it to an extreme and reduce their consumption of good carbs as well. Remember, our bodies use glucose as an energy source for muscles, the nervous system, and the brain. While muscles can store glucose for future use, the brain need a constant supply in order to function properly. Some is stored in the liver (as glycogen), but without continued replenishment, we run out of glucose within a day or two. In some cases, fat or protein can be converted into glucose, but not as effectively as conversion from carbs.

In fact, if the body gets no carbs, it starts to break down fats in order to produce glucose for the brain. While this may sound like a good idea, a side effect is the formation of ketone bodies that can cause ketosis. This is a condition with symptoms such as headaches, mental slowdown, dizziness and, interestingly, a fruity acidic breath. A prolonged state of ketosis may lead to more serious health issues.

OK, I’ll eat my carbs, but what if I eat too many?

Excess carbs will be stored as fat in the body.

How many carbs should I consume per day?

Unfortunately, there is no consensus on this. While the USDA recommends a range of 200-300 grams a day, many nutrition experts think this is too high because typically people will eat mostly refined carbs. That’s why you’ll see recommendations of 125-150 grams of carbohydrate from health professionals. Of course, these should be the good carbs, not the bad ones.

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