Nutrition 101: Are Carbs Unhealthy?



Eating healthy can be confusing. New diets often emerge contradicting old dietary advice and the surplus of nutrition information available can frustrate and misinform anyone. To have a better understanding of nutrition, it’s best to know the basics. Today, you’ll learn about carbohydrates (carbs) and if you subscribe, you’ll be notified when I write about other nutrients such as protein and fat.  Carbohydrates are generally viewed as bad. Bread, pasta, potatoes, and even some fruits are advised by some nutritionists to avoid. A high carb diet is frown upon because of sugar’s negative reputation and a low carb diet is usually praised because some people claim they experienced positive results such as weight loss and increased energy when eating a low carb diet.  But are carbs as unhealthy as low carb supporters believe? Let’s first established what are carbs to find out.


What Are Carbohydrates?


Carbohydrates are sugars, fibers, and starches. Sugar and starch supplies your body with glucose. Glucose converts into energy to support your body. Some parts of your body (i.e. red blood cells and most parts of your brain) can only use glucose for energy.

There are 2 types of fiber–insoluble and soluble fiber.  Insoluble fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular and adds weight to your stool.  Soluble fiber decreases the chances of heart disease and high cholesterol as well as increases blood glucose regulation. Both types of fiber is indigestible. Carbs are macronutrients–which means carbs are needed in large amounts to provide your body calories or energy.  


Are Carbs Unhealthy?


Carbs are intrinsically healthy. Starches are found in plant foods such as potatoes, rice, beans, cassava, and barley. Sugars are found in foods such as fruits, milk, sugar cane, maple syrup, and agave nectar. Fiber is only found in plant foods such as fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.

When carbs are minimally processed or consumed in its natural state, it contains nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body. However, when carbs are modified or heavily processed, it loses most of it nutrients and becomes unhealthy.

For example, whole grains contains bran, germ, and endosperm.  The outer shell of the grain (the bran) contains fiber, minerals, and b vitamins.  The second layer of the grain (the germ) contains essential fatty acids and vitamin e. The last layer of the grain (the endosperm) contains starch, is located in the center of the grain, and is the the soft part of the grain. When grains are heavily processed, the bran and germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm layer for nutrients.

Healthy carbohydrates are nutrient dense unprocessed or minimally processed foods such as seeds, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes. Unhealthy carbohydrates are nutrient poor processed or refined foods such as white flour, white rice, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and sodas.


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What Happens If I Don’t Eat Enough Carbs?


When you don’t eat enough carbs, the body uses protein and fat for energy. Long term use of protein for energy can lead to weakness and muscle loss. 

When your body uses fat for energy—it is undergoes a metabolic process called ketosis. During this process, ketones are produced. Ketosis occurs during long exercise sessions, pregnancy, and unmanaged diabetes. Long term use of fat for energy can cause unsafe levels of ketones to accumulate in your body—which can lead to dehydration and alteration to the chemical balance of your blood.

Insufficient carb intake can cause digestive issues such as constipation due to low fiber intake, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), nutrient deficiencies, and poor bodily functions since glucose is the only source of energy for red blood cells and your brain.


Should I Eat A Low Carb Diet?


Yes, a low nutrient poor carb diet because nutrient poor foods are unhealthy and are best eaten in small amounts. Or a low nutrient dense carb diet if you have a health condition such as carbohydrate intolerance that is exacerbated by healthy carbs. When eating a healthy diet, be sure to eat a wide variety of nutrient dense foods, eat only when you’re hungry, ignore fad diets, and forget the minute details of how much of each serving of macro and micronutrients you need at each meal.

According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell:

There is almost no direct relationship between the amount of a nutrient consumed at a meal and the amount that actually reaches its main site of action in the body—what is called its bioavailability. If, for example, I consume 100 milligrams of vitamin C at one meal, and 500 milligrams at a second meal, this does not mean that the second meal leads to five times as much vitamin C reaching the tissue where it works…

It means that we can never know exactly how much of a nutrient to ingest, because we can’t predict how much of it will be utilized…

The reason we can’t predict how much of a nutrient will be absorbed and utilized by the body is that, within limits, it depends on what the body needs at that moment.  

(Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition; Page 67 & 68)


Therefore, there is no need to worry about eating a low carb or high carb diet. All you need to worry about is the quality of the carbs, the variety of quality carbs you have in your diet, and if you are eating enough quality carbs to satisfy you.



To learn more about Dr. Campbell’s philosophy about nutrition, check out his books below.






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