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rolled oats
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Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?
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Are Carbohydrates Bad for You?

Why do people think carbohydrates are bad for you? This is something I've been asked many, many times by people who are either trying to lose weight or who are trying to improve their health with a better diet. How is it that carbohydrates got such a bad reputation and is it deserved? I'm going to explain what carbohydrates are and whether you should eat them.

Carbohydrates are a "macro-nutrient." That means they are a broad category of a type of nutrient as opposed to a specific nutrient like Vitamin B1 or Potassium. (The other two macro-nutrients are protein and fat.) Carbohydrates (sometimes referred to as "starch") are not just bread, pasta, rice, flour and potatoes. Carbohydrates include vegetables and fruits as well as a number of other things. So right here you can ask yourself, "Should I eliminate all bread, pasta, rice, flour, legumes (beans), potatoes, vegetables and fruits from my diet?" No, of course not!!! That doesn't make any sense, does it?

"Well, okay," you say. "I just meant should I get rid of the bad kind of carbohydrates." My answer is that I don't think of carbohydrates as "good" or "bad." It works better for me to understand the different qualities of carbohydrates.

First you have the best quality of carbohydrates. I would include these foods in the "best" category: whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits.

Next you have what I'll call, "pretty good" carbohydrates. These are things that are made with the best carbohydrates but they have been slightly processed by grinding, crushing or other natural processing like fermentation. For example whole grain bread and flour, steel-cut or rolled oats and other cereal grains, whole grain pasta, fermented bean products such as soy sauce and miso (natural and no sugars or other additives and no chemical processing), pickles.

Then we have the not-so-good carbohydrates. This list includes all products containing refined flour or sugars or any sort. Check out some of my other articles about sugar for more information.

Why do I consider whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits to be the best quality of carbohydrates? Because these are whole foods--i.e. you get the whole original item or just about. Whole grains are millet, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, wheat, rye, and barely. They have not been stripped of their outer layers and therefore they contain the other nutrients that make them a nutritionally balanced food. They have their minerals, fiber and protein intact. Same with beans and vegetables. And let me add here, that I highly recommend you only choose organic when you buy these because you do not want to consume things grown with chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizer that have been grown in mineral-depleted, weak soil.

Now, getting back to the question about the bad rep of carbs. When you eat carbohydrates, hopefully you chew them, they mix with your saliva and they begin breaking down into glucose in your mouth. ALL carbohydrates break down into glucose. As you digest them further, they continue breaking down and the nutrients get delivered to their destinations.

Carbohydrates are one of the two main ways you get energy to live! (The other source of energy is fat.)

But first your body regulates these carbohydrates by responding to the glucose with insulin. The insulin tells your body what to do with the glucose and here's the catch: if you are eating refined carbohydrates such as white flour, various types of simple sugars, and concentrations of fruit juice you get a very rapid, huge "hit" of glucose which causes a rapid, big jump in your blood sugar level followed by a major response of insulin. And if you have been eating a lot of these not-so-good carbohydrates, then your cells have gotten full of sugar and they don't need any more. So the insulin tells your body to store the sugar as fat for later use.

Can you see how carbohydrates got to be known as something to avoid? Sure you should avoid refined carbohydrates and the gazillion products made with refined carbs! But that doesn't mean avoid every carbohydrate. Carbohydrates from whole grains and beans do not break down so rapidly. They take time and your body can use them without the big spike in blood sugar and then insulin. In fact, switching to whole grains is one of the steps you can take to recover from over-consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates.

There is more to this story. You may have to be very careful at first if you've been really overloaded with sugars in the past. Some people cannot tolerate any flour products at all - whole grain or otherwise - and also shouldn't eat fruit because even a piece of whole fruit is too much sugar. You will have to discover exactly what is best for you. But please differentiate between high-quality carbohydrates and low-quality, over-processed, refined carbohydrate and sugar products.


Street Talk

Very nice dissertation on carbs patty. "Carbohydrates" has become such a buzz word in any weight loss or health context that most people don't really know what the word refers to. In a conversation with one of my daughters one time, who has a degree in biology, I pointed out how she was using the word in a fashionable, mainstream connotation, which was very confusing. She immediately saw what I was referring to and how her thinking was effected by the main stream media despite her education!

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Thank you, Jim. Yeah "carbs" is certainly a mainstream media buzz word and a confusing term.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

You're welcome! There are a lot of ways I could approach it so I'm happy it made sense to you! Thanks for taking time to comment Heather.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

This is a really helpful article Patty. Carbohydrates is such an umbrella term and you broke it down very well. Thank you.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
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