While carbs tend to get a lot of bad press (think the Atkins diet), they are an essential part of any diet if you expect to have energy and function at an optimal level. “Your body definitely needs carbs,” says nutritionist Kelly Aronica, who believes that they should make up at least 50-60% of the calories you consume daily. Why? Because glucose, the simplest type of carbohydrate, is the only thing that can be used to meet the energy needs of the body, support the brain and nervous system, and maintain a well-functioning digestive system.
Though the body has a backup plan if no carbohydrates are eaten, it’s not perfect (hence why it’s meant as a backup plan). As Aronica explains it, if there's a lack of carbohydrates, the body essentially converts protein and fat into glucose, which is what the body converts into fuel so we have energy. The problem is that this system is less efficient and slower than just consuming carbohydrates and, depending on your sensitivity level, it often leads to low energy and light-headedness. But that’s not the only reason to eat carbs.
As Aronica puts it, carbs are also needed because their presence lets the body know to release insulin, which is necessary to use the glucose to build muscle, energy storage, and even fat (if you have excess glucose). Now if the mention of fat made you start to believe all those anti-carb rants, then you need to remember that there’s a big difference between carbs that provide fiber, nutrients, and vitamins and ones that only supply sugar. Don’t believe us? Aronica points out that a recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine “showed that eating refined potato products, sweetened drinks, sweets and desserts, fruit juice, and other refined grains were linked to weight gain where high-fiber carbs were linked to long term weight loss.” So instead of banishing carbs from your diet, be more particular about the ones you eat.
Avoid refined carbohydrates (like white bread) and opt for the carbs that have high-fiber levels and a bounty of nutrients and vitamins, like folate and heart healthy omega-3's. While most of the fibers in food aren’t actually digestible, they provide a lot of other important health benefits to keep you operating at your best and are a necessary part of any diet. To help you make better choices, we put together a list of the carbs that are best for your body.
Additional research by Valaer Murray.