America is no stranger to popular diets such as the Atkins diet and South Beach diet which focus on eliminating carbohydrates from the diet to achieve weight loss. Low carbohydrate diets have led many people to people that carbohydrates are bad for the body which is actually wrong. There are different kinds of carbohydrates in foods and some may lead to weight gain but some are actually good for the health. Anything in excess is bad for the health and it is not just carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain but other nutrients such as protein and fats as well especially when consumed in excessive amounts.
The Basics of Carbohydrates
Despite the popularity of fad diets like a low carb diet, carbohydrates are actually needed by the body for normal growth and function. Carbohydrates are nutrients that provide the body with much of its energy through glucose. Glucose is the product of carbohydrate when it is broken down during digestion and can immediately used by the cells or stored in the liver and muscles for future use. Carbohydrates are present in foods such as bread, fruits, vegetables, cookies, and cakes. Not all food sources of carbohydrates can be good for the health and should be avoided especially those that have added sugars and do not provide dietary fiber. Also known as bad carbohydrates, foods with excessive sugar add calories to the body without providing important nutrients.
Types of Carbohydrates
There are two types of carbohydrates found in foods. These are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are commonly known as the bad carbs while complex carbohydrates are known as the good carbs.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars that are quickly utilized by the body. Simple carbohydrate foods include fruits, milk, milk products, and vegetables which contain natural sugars. Some foods also have added sugars like processed foods which may contain refined sugar, corn syrup, and sucrose. Foods with added sugar have less nutrients compared to those containing natural sugar and are touted to be bad for the health. Diabetics should also avoid simple carbohydrates, especially those with added sugar, to prevent blood sugar levels from increasing too rapidly.
Complex carbohydrates need to be broken down by the body through digestion before these can be used as a fuel source for the body. There are two types of complex carbohydrates in food including dietary fiber and starch. Dietary fiber can be soluble (oatmeal, nuts, fruits like apples and strawberries) or insoluble (wheat bran, brown rice, barley) which are both important for good health. Complex carbohydrate foods with starch include potatoes, bread, and cereals.
Bad Carbs vs. Good Carbs vs. No Carbs
While some diets have made it popular belief that carbohydrates are the main culprit behind weight gain and excess body fat, carbohydrates are still needed by the body for energy. Studies show that a low carb diet can help individuals achieve weight loss more quickly but the evidence is only applicable for the short term.
Instead of avoiding carbohydrates in general, it is best to choose good carbs over bad ones. Whole grains and fresh whole fruits and vegetables are good sources of carbohydrates that will not only help provide the body with much needed energy but will also provide essential nutrients like vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants. Avoid foods with added sugars which are sources of bad carbs such as sweetened drinks, cakes, and cookies as well as foods with refined grains like white rice and white bread. These sugars provide the body with empty calories and can also promote development of cavities in the teeth.
Weight gain is not caused by carbohydrates per se. It is usually brought about by lack of exercise and excessive consumption of foods, regardless of whether it is high in carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help you achieve a desirable weight which is essential for better health.