Carbohydrates - The Energy Food

Why Carbs Need to Stay in Our Diet

Eat Carbohydrates for Optimal Fitness. caracterdesign/Getty Images

Carbohydrates get a lot of bad press and most of the blame for keeping America fat. Unfortunately many fad diets and the general populous have come to believe they should be avoided in daily food intake.  This is far from the truth and in fact, carbs are the most important source of energy needed for the human body. They are also a macronutrient which means the body requires lots of carbs to function at optimum levels.

  Our digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, or blood sugar which feeds energy to our cells, tissues and organs.  Energy not utilized is stored in our muscles and liver where our body grabs it on an as needed basis.  The issue is all carbohydrates have been lumped into the "bad rap" pile without understanding all carbs aren't the same and needed for the body to function well.

Carbohydrates provide energy through a digestive process that breaks down sugars and starches to create simple sugars.  The simple sugars are then absorbed into our blood stream and become glucose or blood sugar.  The pancreas releases insulin in response to blood sugar and their working together enables glucose to enter our cells.  Glucose fuels all our physical activities from sitting enjoying a movie, breathing or engaging in a workout.  Additional energy or glucose is stored in our muscles and liver for later use or is converted to fat.

  That statement often sends people into a “don’t eat carbs” frenzy and instead of applauding all the positive functions from carb consumption, the “fat” word is the only thing taken from the information.  The focus needs to be placed on carbohydrate education and how to make healthy choices. 

Carbs have been shown to protect the body against disease and especially with fiber intake, which studies indicate reduces the risk of heart problems.

  Other health benefits include reduced incidence of obesity, protection against Type-2 diabetes and an optimal digestive system.  Carbohydrates have also been linked to weight loss and maintaining goal weight when plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are included in our diet.   Contrary to fad diets and their claims of low carbs are the way to go for weight loss, evidence shows healthy carbohydrate selection has not been linked to weight gain or obesity.   In fact, carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet providing vital nutrients the body requires for optimal functioning.  Since all carbs are not created equal, it will be in the consistent selection and consumption of healthy carbohydrates that will keep our bodies running top notch, within healthy weights, and feeling our best.

The two main types of carbohydrates are simple and complex.  Simple carbs include sugars naturally occurring in foods like fruits, vegetables, and milk.  Added sugars found in prepared or processed foods are also listed under the simple carb category but aren't as healthy and have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars. Complex carbs include fiber and starch and take longer to digest before the body can use the glucose as an energy source.

Samples of healthy complex carbs are whole grain breads, potatoes, beans, most vegetables, and oats. The body functions at its best when healthy selections of both simple and complex carbs are consumed on a regular basis.  Learning how to select the best carbohydrates to maintain a healthy body will reduce the anxiety surrounding all the hype about not eating carbs and enable a more simplistic and realistic approach to eating healthy. 

Sources:, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Finding a Balance

National Academy of Sports Medicine, Nutrition and the Endurance Athlete, Eating for Performance, 5/14

National Academy of Sports Medicine, Carbohydrates: Are They Really that Bad for You?,  Geoff Lecovin, 1/15

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