Everything You Wanted to Know About Carbs, Answered

Carbohydrates. This macro has been the subject of many fad diets over the years, which can cause mass confusion. What do carbohydrates do anyways and do we really need them in our daily diets? Is there such a thing as bad carbs and good carbs?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (the other two are fat and protein). These three macronutrients are essential to optimal health–so why is it that carbs so often get vilified?

We teamed up with registered dietitian Lisa Schrader of Thoughtfully Fueled to take a deep dive on carbohydrates. Here’s an informative, objective look at the science behind carbs.

what do carbohydrates do

What is a carb?

Lisa Schrader (LS): Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient and come in three forms – fiber, starch, and sugar. Carbs are essential and need to be consumed daily to provide the body with energy.

What do carbohydrates do?

LS: Carbohydrates break down into glucose (also known as blood sugar) in your digestive system after they are consumed. Your bloodstream then absorbs glucose and uses it as energy to fuel your body.

What are good carbs?

[Quick aside: we believe that phrases like bad carbs vs good carbs assigns morality to a neutral macronutrient. So instead, we asked Schrader to share more about simple carbs vs complex carbs.]

LS: The chemical structure of the drinks and foods you consume will determine how fast the body can break it down and use it for energy.

A complex carb will take longer to break down and is, therefore, less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar. On the other hand, a simple carb can be broken down and utilized much faster. However, it’s important to note both types of carbohydrates can be present in a healthy diet.

Some examples of complex carbohydrates include legumes like black beans, vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, and whole grains like unprocessed grains like oats. Simple carbs include products that contain added sugar such as baked goods, candy, and cereals.

What does low-carb mean?

LS: The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) suggests that 45-65 percent of your daily calorie intake comes from carbs. Even though there is no strict definition of a low-carb diet, any carbohydrate consumption under the recommended range could be considered low-carb.

Is cutting carbs healthy?

LS: I do not endorse restriction-based diet changes. Therefore, I don’t believe that cutting carbs is a better way to lose weight. As an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I believe in honoring health by listening and responding to the direct cues your body provides, allowing you to meet both your physical and psychological needs.

What is the bottom line about carbs?

LS: Carbs are the body’s main source of energy. [They] come in a variety of forms, and they’re an essential part of a healthy diet.

There you have it, folks! Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet and should not be feared, as long as you prioritize complex carbohydrates and enjoy the occasional simple carbohydrates minimally. Go ahead and eat that slice of bread (just consider whether you’d enjoy a whole grain loaf just as much).

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a lifelong passion for all things health and wellness, Ashley enjoys writing about topics to help people live happier and healthier lives. With a foundation in fitness, food, and nutrition, Ashley covers it all including sexual health and travel topics.