Carbohydrates, or carbs, have recently gathered a bad reputation for their ability to cause weight gain, but not all carbs are unhealthy. In fact, carbs are actually essential to our diets.
What is a carb? Sugar, starch and fiber are three types of carbs commonly found in fruits, beans, milk and more. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbs make up 45% to 65% of an adult’s daily calorie intake.
Carbs are your body’s primary energy source. When you eat them, your body breaks the food into simple sugars that get absorbed into the bloodstream. Then, insulin is released into your body to move the sugar, or glucose, from your blood into your cells, where the sugar is stored for energy. This helps fuel your body for different activities from jogging to simple breathing. Without carbs, it will be hard to perform basic tasks.
Not only are carbs an essential source of energy, but foods that contain whole grains and dietary fiber, such as brown rice, have shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Fiber helps keep a healthy digestive system by softening your stool, allowing it to pass through your system and decreasing your chances of constipation.
So why are there low-carb or zero-carb diets that restrict or completely cut the vital nutrient from the body? A low-carb diet may be a good option for people looking to lose weight. On a carbohydrate-restricted diet, your body will rely on fat and protein as a source of energy, though neither is sufficient.
When fat is being used for energy, it doesn’t digest completely, which allows ketones, a mildly acidic chemical produced by your liver, to form and build in the blood. Over time, it can make the blood more acidic and become harmful to the body. Meanwhile, using protein as energy can compromise the building of muscles and other cells.
It is also important to realize that not every carb is good for you. All carbs turn into glucose and raise your blood sugar, but some raise it faster than others, which could be dangerous especially if you have diabetes. White rice, bread and pasta fall under the category of refined carbohydrates, which are stripped of their nutrients and fibers. They get digested faster, which can lead to blood sugar spikes and not feeling full after eating. This can also put you at risk for obesity, diabetes and other health complications.
The majority of foods are good to eat as long as you learn to have everything in moderation. Your body can get thrown out of whack if you don’t eat right. Watch for these signs that you’re eating way too many carbs.