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Are Carbohydrates Bad for You?

Lauren B. Parks
Lauren B. Parks

Carbohydrates aren't bad for you, but you should be careful with them. These nutrients are necessary, but too much of one thing can also be bad. Being careful with them means understanding how they affect your body, and choosing the right ones to eat.

Starches, cellulose, and sugars make up carbohydrates, and they can be found in many foods, including pastas, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and processed foods. They are also one of your body’s primary energy sources. To get the energy from them, your body must break them down and convert them into a simple sugar known as glucose. The production of glucose stimulates the production of insulin, a hormone that allows your body to distribute this sugar.

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, or "good carbs.".
Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, or "good carbs.".

There are two kinds of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Health experts have also deemed them good and bad carbs, inversely. Simple, or bad, ones are easiest for your body to digest and breakdown. Therefore, they tend to provide quick, short-lived bursts of energy. Also, since they are easy to digest, you often feel hungrier more quickly. This type can be found in foods such as cakes, candies, white breads, and other foods containing refined sugars.

Candy typically contains simple carbohydrates.
Candy typically contains simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbs, also known as good carbs, are long strings of molecules made up of starches and fibers. Their composition is more difficult for the body to break down, and therefore keep you feeling fuller longer. They are often found in high fiber foods such as legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Furthermore, they are rich in nutrients such as vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. Since they keep you fuller longer, you are less likely to overindulge on them.

Carbohydrates provide the body with energy.
Carbohydrates provide the body with energy.

While eating carbs provides your body with much needed energy, overindulging on them can have negative side effects, such as weight gain. Eating too many results in excess glucose production. Though the liver and muscles are designed to store excess glucose as glycogen, they can only hold so much. Any excess glucose that cannot be stored in the liver and muscles is stored as fat instead.

Granulated sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly digested by the body.
Granulated sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly digested by the body.

Another risk of overindulgence is the possible development of Type II diabetes, a condition in which your body is either unable to produce adequate insulin, or your body simply ignores the available insulin. Again, eating too much of this nutrient results in the overproduction of glucose, which causes the overproduction of insulin. This, in turn, makes it possible for your body to become overwhelmed by the constant need for insulin, and therefore unable to regulate its production.

Experts typically recommend eating potatoes in moderation.
Experts typically recommend eating potatoes in moderation.

To keep your body healthy and energized, focus on maintaining a moderate intake of complex carbohydrates that are found in fiber-rich, whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables. Pairing your meals with a small salad or light soup will also help you feel fuller faster.

Discussion Comments


"As long as you eat 80 percent carbs, 10 percent fat and protein, you will lose one to two pounds of fat a week."

Uh, nope. Weight loss depends on a caloric deficit, not just a percentage of macronutrients. I've been seeing freakishly effective results on a keto diet (60 percent fat, 30 percent protein, 10 percent carbs).


If you read the scientific literature, you will be led to the opposite conclusion regarding carbs. I used to have the same opinion. I thought I had a decent understand of nutrition, being an amateur body builder when I was young, but I was wrong.

Read "The China Study" or a Mcdougall book and check out the studies they've done or referenced. Eating a high carb, low fat, low protein diet is the tried and true way to lose weight and age gracefully with tons of energy. Look at the 1B+ Chinese or study why Roman Gladiators were called Barley Men.

As long as you eat 80 percent carbs, 10 percent fat and protein, you will lose one to two pounds of fat a week until you reach your ideal weight, for all practical purposes regardless of intake. You won't lose muscle, since 7 percent of total calories coming from protein is all the body needs - again, read the scientific literature.

If you want to gain huge amounts of muscle, meaning 50 pounds more than the standard human has, body builders eat 200g/35-plus percent protein. This is because eating massive amounts of protein causes the body to produce additional human growth hormone - it is not the protein directly. This is bad specifically, because eating excess protein cause "caloric cancers" to grow, which may be a substantial percentage of cancers.

If you look at advocates of high fat high protein diets, most are fat and/or dead - look at Atkins. Look at people who follow a high carb, low fat/protein diet and they're slim and aging gracefully. Bill Clinton shifted his diet to this, and he lost weight and gain tons of energy after his triple bypass.

Unfortunately, like everything else today, business just wants to make a buck. They don't care about your well being, nor do they care about your education. Carbs move into the blood and are stored as glycogen, and the excess is typically handled via thermogenesis or excess body movement. Then if it happens to get stored as fat it, does so with 60 percent efficiency. And again, trust peer reviewed scientific literature only.


great article. the body needs carbs to operate. if not we force ourselves to get the energy from other vital parts of the body such as the muscles.


With all due respect to the graduate in anatomy and physiology, it is hard to believe that healthy carbohydrates are not beneficial, or needed for a healthy human body.

You mention "better lifestyle", however, you do not explain what does that mean, and you also do not mention what was the average lifespan of people who consumed only protein and fat?


Regarding those ancient peoples that supposedly ate "only fat and protein," what evidence is there that they had a "better lifestyle?" Examination of skeletal remains often show otherwise. Humans need a varied diet, and not everyone can eat the same things as everyone else in the same percentages of macronutrients nor in the same quantities. We are all individuals with a unique genetic make-up.

It's just as unwise to say everyone should eat a high protein diet as it is to say everyone would be healthy on a high carbohydrate diet. Huge amounts of protein can be extremely taxing on the kidneys and bones for example, leading to kidney problems and thinning bones.

Eliminating or drastically cutting carbohydrates can deplete the body of powerful plant antioxidants that fight free radicals and inflammation in the body. So we need to stop making blanket statements about what is good and bad for human health and realize that for every individual, their particular diet should be based on several factors: current health status, age, gender, activity level, ethnic predispositions (e.g. diabetes, hypertension), etc.

Learn more about what works for your particular health status, don't just jump on the latest diet/health fad - science is constantly changing in this area!


The people below are not qualified in anything and have no understanding of the human body.

As a graduate in anatomy and physiology, i will tell you that the body doesn't need carbs. The genetic variation from palermo to modern times is only 2 percent, and that means people back then only ate fat and protein and lived a better lifestyle. With a variation of 2 percent, we don't need carbs.

The body also works in smart ways when using fat and protein. Glucose can be derived from excess protein consumption which is why carbs aren't really needed for glycogen. Also healthy fats do not get stored but are used up by an unknown biological process no matter how much the calorie surplus.


I agree! I average 60 percent of my food comes from good carbs and have lost 45 pounds doing so. To stay away from carbs altogether is just not good for you. I, too, eat a baked potato a couple of times a week. I watch the portion size too.


Absolutely not, we need carbs for so many different reasons. Even potatoes are not only healthy, but are helpful in weight loss. According to some studies the starch in potatoes appears to stimulate hormones that makes us feel full. They also help the body burn more fat.

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    • Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, or "good carbs.".
      By: jillchen
      Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, or "good carbs.".
    • Candy typically contains simple carbohydrates.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Candy typically contains simple carbohydrates.
    • Carbohydrates provide the body with energy.
      By: Elena Schweitzer
      Carbohydrates provide the body with energy.
    • Granulated sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly digested by the body.
      By: bit24
      Granulated sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly digested by the body.
    • Experts typically recommend eating potatoes in moderation.
      By: Picture Partners
      Experts typically recommend eating potatoes in moderation.