No, Carbs Aren’t Bad for You And Here Are 5 Reasons Why
Katy Harvey, RD
Photo by Ben Neale
At least once a day I’ll hear someone say something like:
“Carbs make you fat.”
“I shouldn’t eat that because it’s too high in carbs.”
“Sugar is so bad for you.”
Scientists used to tell people that dietary fat was bad, so we started cutting fat out of our food supply. Then we realized that was terrible advice, and that there were many unfortunate health consequences of telling people to avoid it.
So now we’ve jumped to carbs being the food group that is demonized. And we’re seeing the same thing—that telling people to avoid an entire food group is making things worse, not better.
What happens when you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat something? Your brain immediately perceives the threat of deprivation and makes you want it even more. Ever heard of the “Don’t think about purple elephants” thing? (Now try not to think about purple elephants. I bet you can’t do it!)
It’s common for clients to tell me that they try to avoid carbs, only to find themselves eventually overeating or bingeing on high-carbohydrate foods.
Turns out your body is trying to tell you something in its desperation for carbs.
Reality is, no single food or nutrient is “bad” for us. In fact, by definition, a nutrient is something your body has to have. Too little or too much of any given nutrient can lead to symptoms of deficiency or excess - but the problem is the “too little” or “too much” - not the nutrient itself.
Let’s stop hating on carbs and embrace them instead!
Here are my top 5 reasons to love carbs
1. Carbs are your body’s favorite source of energy
For most people, consuming about 45-65% of your daily calories from carbs is ideal. Your body prefers to use carbs for energy (via your blood sugar - a type of carb!). Your blood sugar is the circulating energy delivered to cells. In the absence of enough carbs, your body can use protein or fat for energy, but it prefers not to because it has other priorities for those nutrients.
2. Your brain can only use glucose for energy
Glucose (your blood sugar) is the only type of energy that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, your brain can’t use protein or fat for energy. The brain alone burns about 400-500 calories (of carbohydrate) per day - that’s amazing!
3. Carbs taste good
There’s a reason we crave carbs – they taste good! This is a primitive way that our body is telling us we need them. Part of healthful eating is enjoying food that tastes good.
4. Carbohydrate-based foods contain other essential nutrients
Avoiding carbs means missing out on the other nutrients in those foods. For example, bread and cereals are an excellent source carbs, along with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin) and folate - things we don’t get in many other foods. Carbs can also provide a lot of fiber and potassium (especially starchy veggies like potatoes, and fruit).
5. Avoiding carbs makes you crave them more
Back to the purple elephant thing. Telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have something only enhances the desire for it. It also perpetuates the shame when you do eat those foods, and the distrust of yourself to be able to handle them.
Carbs = energy = fuel = good for you
How can that be “bad?”
Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City. She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.