Are all carbohydrates bad for you?

While many popular diets tend to demonize carbohydrates across the board (we’re looking at you, Ketogenic diets!) carbohydrates are not all bad: carbohydrates play a crucial role in the human diet. Without carbohydrate consumption we would not consumer sufficient fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

With that being said, certain carbohydrates are far better than others.

Unfortunately, as a country, we tend to consume far too many of the least healthy carbohydrates, and not enough of the right type of carbohydrates. Collectively, we consume too much sugar, not enough fruits and veggies, and not enough fiber.

Caloric, sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of excess Calories in the American diet, and less than 10% of Americans consume enough fruits and vegetables.

Collectively, this distortion in consumption is directly associated with the obesity epidemic.

Currently, more than two thirds of the American population is overweight or obese, thanks to poor dietary patterns and the overconsumption of high Calorie, high sugar foods.

So which carbohydrates are good, and which should you skip altogether?

First thing’s first: carbohydrate isn’t just in bread, pasta, rice, and pastries. Carbohydrate is present in many foods in some form: fruit, vegetables, dairy, and grains all contain some degree of carbohydrate, in the form of simple or complex sugars and fiber.

Healthy carbohydrates are those that are high in fiber and/or protein, low in added sugar, low in saturated and/or trans fat, and high in vitamins and minerals.

Conversely, unhealthy carbohydrates are those that are low in protein and/or fiber, high in added sugar, high in saturated and/or trans fat, and low in vitamins and minerals.

Examples of healthy carbohydrates include (but are not limited to): fruit, vegetables, lowfat and nonfat dairy, and whole grains. These foods contain disease fighting antioxidants, beneficial pre and probiotics, and a higher degree of water and fiber, both of which can aid satiety and promote weight control.

On the other hand, unhealthy carbohydrates include (but are not limited to): refined (“white”) bread, pasta, and rice, pastries and desserts, sugar, honey, and syrups, breakfast cereals, granola bars, chips and crackers, full fat dairy, alcohol, sports drinks, candy, soda, and other Caloric beverages.

Unhealthy carbohydrates are associated with a higher risk for obesity and higher body mass index (BMI), as well as an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, dementia, and certain forms of cancer. Unhealthy carbohydrates tend to be very low in antioxidant content and fiber, and tend to disrupt blood sugar control, leading to insulin dysregulation that can cause cellular inflammation and type II diabetes.

On the other hand, diets that include sufficient amount of healthy carbohydrate are associated with greater weight management and reduced risk for certain forms of cancer, diseases of aging (alzheimer’s disease, dementia, etc), and reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease. This is likely thanks to the high antioxidant content of these products, as well as the role of high fiber foods in the management of blood sugar and reductions in cellular inflammation.

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