Are Carbs Bad for You? [Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates]

Are carbs bad for you?

Carbohydrates have been a topic of debate for a long time now. 

Some say they increase weight, so stay away from them.

Others believe they are essential for our body functions…

…therefore, you should include them in your daily diet.

So, which is correct?

In this ultimate guide to carbohydrates, you will get everything you might need to know about this controversial macronutrient.

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are carbs bad for you? Ultimate carb guide.

  1. What exactly are Carbohydrates?
  2. Types of Carbohydrates
  3. Net Carbs vs Total Carbs
  4. How do our bodies process and use carbs?
  5. Is low carb healthy?
  6. How many carbs should we eat in a day?
  7. Foods to eat in a low carb diet
  8. Foods to avoid in a low carb diet
  9. Is low carb bad for children?
  10. Low-carb diet effect on Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women
  11. Healthy High-Carb Foods
  12. Are carbs good or bad for you?

What exactly are Carbohydrates?

What is a carb? Chemically, as the name suggests, Carbohydrates consists of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen.

They are one of the three macronutrients, the other two being proteins and fats.

What do carbohydrates do?

Carbohydrate is the main provider of the fuel required for energy.

When ingested, carbs get broken into glucose, which gets absorbed in our bloodstream. This is used to provide our body energy for various metabolic functions, through a process called cellular respiration.

But if it seems to be doing such a significant function, why do carbs get a bad reputation? Well, you might have also heard- Not all carbs are bad! And that is true.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are mainly of two types- Simple and Complex. Apart from their chemical structure, the major difference lies in the way and time they are absorbed by our bodies.

Simple Carbs

Simple Carbs

Simple carbs are the ones that get broken into glucose, or simply, sugar very quickly.

They consist of monosaccharides and disaccharides- one and two sugar molecules- and thus convert into sugar very easily. This provides instant bursts of energy and causes a spike in blood sugar level (hence the name ‘Sugar Rush’ and ‘Sugar Crash’).

All sugar types (plus recipes that use sugar in them – i.e. dessert recipes) – raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave, corn syrup, etc. are a few sources of simple carbs.

Complex Carbs

Complex Carbs

On the other hand, complex carbs, consist of polysaccharides- more than two and complex sugar molecules, which are not digested and absorbed by our body that easily.

These are also known to be as Starches. Whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts are all sources of complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates are mainly used by our bodies for more sustained energy.

Net Carbs vs Total Carbs

net carbs vs total carbs

So, you might have noticed on some sites or on different products – carbs can be calculated into “net carbs” or “total carbs”.

So, what’s the difference? What does this mean?

It is important to note that when looking at a nutrition label and seeing the carbohydrates, you will note that they are generally broken down into fibers and sugars.

Fiber (a carb) does not get absorbed by our body but is actually excreted through the body undigested, without generally changing the blood sugar levels.

However, some type 1 diabetic patients have to be careful when consuming any carbs and watch what they eat religiously. [1]

So while calculating the number of carbohydrates ingested, some prefer to subtract the amount of fiber content from the “Total Carbs” a food contains. That is termed as “Net Carbs”.

How do our bodies process and use carbohydrates?

So what actually happens in our body after we eat carbs?

As mentioned above, the carbohydrates are broken into glucose, which is absorbed in our bloodstream.

This raises the sugar level causing the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin that delivers glucose from the blood to the cells; and that ultimately provides energy to our body for various tasks of muscles, heart, and brain.

Our body consumes this glucose as much as required for the immediate needs and in case of surplus amount, stores in the form of glycogen to be used later.

Glycogen is mainly stored in the liver and muscles, to be released in the bloodstream to provide energy when simple sugar is not available instantly, for example, between the meals.

However, there is also a limit to which the liver and muscles can store glycogen.

When that limit is reached and the carbs are consumed at a higher rate than being expended (in the body activities, for instance), the glucose is converted to triglyceride molecules, that are stored as fat in the body.  

Is low carb healthy?

Low carb diets are known for helping with weight loss.

Low carb intake goes hand-in-hand with low glucose production.

As a result, the body is then forced to use the fat reserve for the primary source of fuel for energy; and voila! You will probably see results on the scale!

Yet some argue that the carbohydrates are necessary for the proper functioning of the body and removing it would be a disaster.

Well, they are not completely wrong.

Carbs are in fact one of the main macronutrients (only when they are considered good carbs, of course).

In addition, if you’re following a healthy diet, it is never possible to remove carbohydrates entirely.

The idea is just to limit its consumption so that our body uses an alternate source for various functions and lose weight in the process.

Many fruits and vegetables are packed with essential nutrients, but also have some carbohydrates.

Even fiber, which is very necessary for our digestive health, is a kind of carbohydrate.

This raises the next question….

How many carbs should we eat in a day?

low carb amounts
This depends….

Generally, there is no minimum amount of carbohydrates that you absolutely must consume, as long as you are including protein and fat quantities adequately in your diet.

The body uses amino acids from protein and glycerol from fatty acids for converting to glucose, required by brain and kidneys to function properly.

However, there are many other valuable nutrients as well in food that may contain some carbohydrates. Vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts, for example, have some carbs but packed with essential nutrients and fiber too.

Generally, if your intake of net carbs (deducting the fiber from the carbs) is less than 20 grams a day, you would be following the ketogenic diet or low-carb diet.

In this form of the diet, the total energy from carbohydrates is close to 4 or 5 percent, the rest being achieved from proteins and fats.

If the net carbs content in your diet is between 20 – 50 grams per day, it would be a ‘moderate‘ low-carb diet, and the energy derived from carbs is approximately 5-10 percent.

Net carbs between 50 – 100 grams per day is still low, although termed as ‘liberal‘ low-carb or keto diet.

But what are the foods we can eat that will have low carb content and yet packed with essential nutrients?

Foods to eat in a low-carb diet

You want to lose weight and you have heard wonderful things about following a keto diet plan.

Which foods should you eat that would be considered good carbs or healthy carbs?

Counting carbs when following a diet plan can be complicated, and we here help you with just that.

Low Carb Foods

Foods with 0 or almost 0% carbs:

  • Eggs
  • Meats [for example – Chicken, Lamb, Pork, and Beef]
  • Fish [for example – Salmon, Trout & Sardines]
  • Butter and Oil [for example – EVOO, Coconut oil, avocado oil]
  • Water, Coffee, and Tea.

Foods with less than 10% net carbs:

  • Seafood [such as Shrimp, Haddock, Shellfish, Cod, Tuna, Halibut, Lobster]
  • Vegetables [for example – Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Celery, Spinach, Pepper, and Zucchini. Mainly most vegetables, except the root vegetables that have starch.]
  • Fruits [for example – Avocado, Strawberries, Lemon and Olives. Other fruits like grapefruit, Apricot, kiwi, orange, raspberries, blueberries have little more carbs content but less than 20% and can be consumed in moderation].
  • Dairy products [for example – cheddar cheese, heavy cream, full-fat yogurt, and Greek yogurt]

Foods less than 50% net carbs (but generally consumed in ounces in a day)

  • Nuts and Seeds [for example – Almonds, Walnuts, Peanuts, Hazelnuts, Macadamia nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds (with the exception of pumpkin seeds, which have a little more carbs at 54 grams per 100 grams)]
  • Dark Chocolate with 70-85% cocoa content [that contains 46% carbs].

Foods to avoid in a low-carb diet

carbs infographic

To be clear, the foods listed below (and in the carb guide above) may have less percentage of carbs per 100 grams; however, generally, the portion size in these foods tends to be larger than that. That’s why it’s recommended you avoid them.

  • Grains– Whole or Refined [like in Bread, Bagel, Muffin, Tortilla or Pasta]
  • Fruits [for example – banana, mango, and pear]
  • Dry fruits [like raisins and dates]
  • Vegetables with high starch content [for example – potato, sweet potato or corn]
  • Legumes [such as lentils, peas, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans]
  • Juice [especially store-bought juice since it might contain added sugars, but fresh-squeezed might also be high carb depending on the fruits used to make it]

What are the BAD carbs to eat?

  • Beer
  • Sugar in any form [raw, brown, honey, agave or maple syrup]
  • Whole or low-fat milk in large quantities. [there are 12-13 grams of carbs in 8 ounces of milk]

So we are trending towards low-carb diet and its effectiveness in weight loss and control in blood sugar levels in some cases for diabetic patients.

But is this diet for everyone? What about in special cases, like for children or pregnant/breastfeeding women?

Is low carb bad for children?

Note, the key phrase here is ‘LOW’ and not ‘NO’ carb.

So while it is important to cut down certain types of carbohydrates, specifically added sugars and processed foods; removing all carbohydrates might not be a good idea for the kids’ growing bodies.

Whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber along with carbs, which are imperative for the healthy growth of the children’s muscles and brain.

It is actually recommended to include an adequate amount of fiber daily in a child’s meal plan, which depends on the age and gender of the child- ranging from 19 grams (for 1-3 years kids) to 38 grams (14-18 years boys).

Restricting carbs for kids should not be your daily intention.

And, feeding them whole and healthy food that is packed with nutrients and fiber is vital.

But remember, what may work for a child in a healthy weight range, may not work for others. Consult your doctor or a dietician for a diet plan that may suit your child best.

What about Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women?

Carbohydrates are significant in building muscles.

When expecting, carbohydrates are essential for providing ‘baby-making’ nutrients.

However, keep in mind that you should definitely eliminate the foods that have empty calories or added sugar, and go for a healthy and balanced diet plan with complex carbs rather than simple carbs.

Along with vitamins and minerals, complex carbs are a wonderful source of folic acid (that can help prevent birth defects) and fiber (needed to fight constipation).

Breastfeeding women lose sugar in high quantity (30 grams or more) while feeding their babies their own breastmilk and so require to get around 1800 calories a day for proper lactation and to maintain health.

A low-carb diet fills you up in fewer calories and may not provide all the nutrients required for a new mother’s health and proper growth and development of the newborn child.

There might be few exceptions in certain conditions, such as gestational diabetes, where doctors might suggest a low-carb diet to be therapeutic.

Remember to always talk to your doctor first about your food and nutrition in these crucial life-making months.

Healthy High-Carb Foods

Now to look at carbs in a different light…

Some carb-filled foods are extremely nutritious and packed with important vitamins and minerals. Check out the high carbohydrate chart and the food list below. 

Healthy High Carb Foods

And, on a whole another spectrum, there are many people out there who swear by a high-carb diet. As you have probably heard before – Everyone Is Different.

What works for you, may not work for your BFF and what works for your BFF may not work for you.

For instance, there is a product out there by Rusty Moore and Mark Kislich called Visual Impact – High Carb Fat Loss. Both Rusty and Mark have had huge success with living a high carb diet. Learn their stories by clicking here.

I also follow High-Carb Hannah over on instagram for her great recipe ideas and food tips from time to time. She lost 70lbs on a high carb diet.

If you don’t really care about carb intake and just want to be healthy…

Or, if you’re not on an extremely low-carb diet, and you’re instead following a moderate to a liberal low-carb diet…

…the following foods should definitely be included in your meal plan. What are the healthiest carbs?

  • Quinoa – 1 cup of quinoa contains approximately 39 grams of carbohydrates, but it is mostly complex carbs with a high percentage of protein and fiber.
  • Oats – Nearly 66% carbs, but a good source of many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It might also reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Buckwheat – Rich in protein, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. There are 34 grams of carbs in 1 cup of cooked buckwheat.
  • Banana – 23% of carbs, in the form of starch and sugars, but high in potassium and vitamins. They are considered to help with digestive health and lowering blood pressure.
  • Sweet potatoes and Beetroots – High carbs from mainly sugar and starch but loaded with vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Kidney beans and Chickpeas – These cooked legumes have 22- 28% carbs. But are high in plant-based protein and packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They are also thought to be helpful in improving digestive health and preventing cancer.

In the end, it’s all about finding what is right for you and your body – whether it’s high carb, low carb, zero carb or moderate carb, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re feeling your best and making progress in your health and life.

So, what’s the verdict on carbs?

Are carbs good for you?

Are carbs bad for you?

There is no denying that carbs are an essential macronutrient.

However, refined carbs and added sugars should be avoided and whole food sources, vegetables, and fruits should be consumed, in moderate quantities, to get essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

The key to a healthy diet plan lies in selecting the right type of carbohydrate in the amount that works best for you.

Please take a moment to share this post with a friend who is unsure about carbs.

Leave a comment below if you have any questions about this post.

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