Don’t Judge a Carb By Its Cover

Cayla Ames--Ingest what is best.

Choosing carbohydrates can be a complicated task because it is hard to differentiate good carbs from bad carbs. Unfortunately carbs are often misunderstood and considered unhealthy and, in turn, avoided.

“The common misconception is that carbs are bad and that we take in too many of them,” Associate Professor of Kinesiology Jan Kodat said. “In reality, we take in too much processed foods that contain carbs.”

Carbs are important for the body because they are the main source of energy. Carbs are not something that can be completely eliminated from your diet.

“One should never have a carb-free diet due to the fact that glucose (the simplest form of carbohydrate) is needed to fuel the brain and nervous system,” Kodat said. “We absolutely need it.”

According to, the energy that comes from fat metabolism can provide backup energy however, carbs are the ideal source, especially in the brain.

“If carbohydrates are lacking in the diet then the brain is forced to break down protein for fuel,” Kodat said. “This causes nitrogen to accumulate in the body and must be filtered out by the kidneys. This also takes protein away from its many other jobs, such as repair, fluid balance, enzymatic activities, transportation and so on.”

However, not all forms of carbohydrates are created equal. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. These carbs can do different things to the body that can be beneficial and detrimental.

“Simple carbs (often called sugars) are single sugars chemically (monosaccharides) or are pairs of monosaccharides (disaccharides). These are easier to breakdown and used by the body but too much without other nutrients can cause blood sugar to spike and overuse of insulin,” Kodat said.

Simple carbs that are beneficial include apples, blackberries, cranberries, pears and oranges.

However there are simple carbs found in processed foods that can be detrimental if not consumed in moderation, such as soft drinks, pickles, biscuits, cakes, jam and candy. These types of refined sugars provide calories but lack in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are often called “empty calories” because they lack nutrients and can lead to weight gain.

“Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides and are much larger molecules/chains of monosaccharides,” Kodat said. “They require more energy to breakdown and release slower into the bloodstream than simple carbs. Both [simple and complex] are beneficial in the diet when eaten in balance with proteins and healthy fats.”

Complex carbs that are better health-wise include legumes, starchy vegetables and whole-grain breads and cereals.

Since there are so many labels on food these days, it can be overwhelming to choose the right types of carbs. Here are some tips from about carbohydrate consumption:

-Steer clear of refined and processed foods.

-Choose whole grains: oats, whole wheat, brown rice, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

-Try to have 40 percent of your total caloric intake come from complex carbohydrates.

-Avoid the temptation to only eat low-fat foods, which contain a substantial amount of calories from

-Resist the lure of low-carb foods, which sometimes have more calories from fat.

When consumed in moderation and chosen wisely, carbs should not be considered as the enemy to your waistline.