What Is a Carb?

Man breaking bread
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Definition: The word carb is short for carbohydrate, which is a component of food containing starches and sugars that is used mainly for energy in the body.

Example: "This breakfast has too much carb for me."

Pronunciation: karb

Also Known As: carbs, carbohydrates, carbos

The word carb also has come to have several other meanings:

1) A food that is high in carbohydrate (or a serving of such a food) is sometimes called a carb.

This is often a starchy food such as potatoes, bread, or rice. In this context, the word is more or less a slang term, because other foods high in carbohydrate, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, are rarely called "carbs".

This usage sometimes morphs into using the word carb to refer to foods that only have a little carbohydrate in a very irregular way (you will hear "spinach is a carb" but rarely "almonds are a carb", even though they are both foods with only small amounts of carbohydrate).  People say this are usually opposed to low-carb diets or are advocates of high-carb or low-fat diets.

Personally, I think it's clearer to avoid using the word carb to refer to a food because it can create confusion as to what carbohydrate actually is.

2) People on low-carb diets often use carb to mean a gram of carbohydrate. They will sometimes say "this apple has 17 carbs in it", or even more commonly will speak of foods having "lots of carbs" or "not many carbs".



3) A gram of net carb (also called effective carbs and other things) can also be abbreviated to carb, particularly by people following a low-carb way of eating. This means that grams of fiber and possibly other types of carbohydrate that do not affect blood sugar have been subtracted from the total amount of carbohydrate.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

You will also hear about "good carbs" and "bad carbs" which can also be confusing because there is no one way to categorize the two - different writers essentially make up their own definitions. Again, this usage is referring to actual foods as "carbs", which I think is not usually helpful. On the other hand, foods high in so-called refined carbohydrate (grains which are no longer whole, added sugars, and processed foods) are in everyone's definition of "bad carbs" and should be avoided in any case.

For More Information, see:

How to Count Carbs

More About Understanding Carb Counts

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