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The amount of carbohydrates we should consume is a controversial topic. The dietary guidelines recommend that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates . On the other hand, some people claim that carbohydrates may cause obesity and type 2 diabetes, and most people should avoid them. There are good arguments on both sides, but our bodies need carbohydrates to function properly. This article details carbohydrates, their health effects and how to make the best choices for yourself.

Carbohydrates are molecules with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. In nutrition, "carbohydrate" refers to one of the three macronutrients. The other two are protein and fat.

Dietary carbohydrates are mainly divided into three categories:

  • sugar. These are sweet short-chain carbohydrates found in food. Examples are glucose , fructose, galactose and sucrose .
  • starch. These are long chains of glucose molecules that will eventually be broken down into glucose in the digestive system.
  • fiber. Humans cannot digest fiber, but bacteria in the digestive system can use it . In addition, eating fiber is vital to your overall health.

One of the main purposes of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide fuel for the body.

Most carbohydrates are broken down or converted into glucose, which can be used as energy. Carbohydrates can also be converted into fat (stored energy) for later use.

Fiber is the exception. It does not directly provide energy, but it can feed friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria can use fiber to produce fatty acids so that some of our cells can be used for energy.

Sugar alcohols are also classified as carbohydrates. They taste sweet, but usually don't provide many calories.

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Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients. The main types of carbohydrates in the diet are sugar, starch and fiber.

Not all carbohydrates are the same.

There are many different types of carbohydrate-containing foods, and their health effects may also be different.

Carbohydrates are sometimes referred to as "simple" and "complex", or "whole" and "refined".

Whole carbohydrates are unprocessed and contain fiber naturally present in foods, while refined carbohydrates have been processed and natural fiber has been removed or changed.

Examples of whole carbohydrates include:

  • vegetables
  • Quinoa
  • barley
  • Beans
  • potato
  • Whole grains

On the other hand, refined carbohydrates include:

  • Sugary drinks
  • White bread
  • pastry
  • Other items made of white flour

A large number of studies have shown that the intake of refined carbohydrates is related to health conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes (1 trusted source, 2 trusted sources, 3 trusted sources).

Refined carbohydrates often cause blood sugar levels to rise, which can lead to subsequent collapse, which can trigger hunger and cause food cravings (4 trusted sources,5).

They also often lack essential nutrients. In other words, they are "empty" calories.

Added sugars should limit intake because they are associated with various chronic diseases (6 trusted sources, 7 trusted sources, 8 trusted sources, 9 trusted sources).

However, processed foods should not demonize all carbohydrate-containing foods because processed foods have a negative impact on health.

Whole carbohydrate foods are rich in nutrients and fiber , and will not cause the same blood sugar fluctuations .

Extensive research on high-fiber carbohydrates including vegetables, fruits , legumes and whole grains has shown that eating them is associated with improved metabolic health and reduced disease risk (10 trusted sources, 11 trusted sources, 12 trusted sources, 13 trusted sources, 14 trusted sources).

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Not all carbohydrates are the same. Refined carbohydrates are associated with obesity and metabolic diseases, but unprocessed carbohydrates have many health benefits.

If there is no mention of a low-carbohydrate diet, the discussion of carbohydrates is incomplete.

These types of diets restrict carbohydrates while allowing large amounts of protein and fat.

Although studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets can help you lose weight, they tend to focus on those with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and/or type 2 diabetes.

Some of these studies have shown that, compared to a standard "low-fat" diet, a low-carbohydrate diet can promote weight loss and improve various health indicators, including HDL "good" cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.15 trusted sources,16,17 trusted sources, 18 years old trusted source, 19 trusted sources).

However, reviews of more than 1,000 studies found that low-carbohydrate diets have positive results for less than and less than 6-11 months, but have no significant effect on cardiovascular risk factors after 2 years (20 trusted sources).

In addition, in the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of the United States, low-carbohydrate diets and death risks were analyzed, and it was found that those with the least carbohydrate intake died prematurely, including stroke, cancer and coronary heart disease. (21 trusted sources,twenty two,twenty three).

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Just because low-carbohydrate diets are useful for some people's weight loss, but not everyone's method.

Although restricting carbohydrates can lead to weight loss, this does not mean that carbohydrate intake in the first place is itself the cause of weight gain.

This is actually a myth that has been debunked .

It is true that added sugar and refined carbohydrates are associated with increased chances of obesity, but fiber-rich whole food carbohydrates are not.

In fact, humans have consumed carbohydrates in one form or another for thousands of years.

However, since the middle of the 20th century, the incidence of obesity began to increase, and began to rise around 1980, when 4.8% of men and 7.9% of women were obese.

Today, our number is growing exponentially, 42.4%Of adults suffer from obesity (24 trusted sources).

It is also worth noting that some people still maintain good health when eating a high-carbohydrate diet.

Okinawans and Kitavan islanders consume a large portion of calories from carbohydrates every day, and they live the longest (25).

What they have in common is that they eat unprocessed real food.

However, people who consume a lot of refined carbohydrates and processed foods tend to have a greater chance of negative health consequences.

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People have been eating carbohydrates since long before the obesity epidemic, and there are many examples showing that people who consume high carbohydrates in their diets still maintain good health.

Many people on a low-carbohydrate diet claim that carbohydrates are not essential nutrients.

This may be true to a certain extent, but they are an important part of a balanced diet.

Some people think that the brain does not need the recommended 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. Although ketones can be used in certain areas of the brain, the brain relies on carbohydrates to provide its fuel (26 trusted sources, 27 trusted sources).

In addition, the nutrients provided by carbohydrate-containing foods (such as vegetables and fruits) have a variety of health benefits.

Although you can survive even on a zero-carbohydrate diet , it may not be the best option because you missed plant-based foods that are scientifically proven to be beneficial.

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Carbohydrates are not "essential" nutrients. However, many carbohydrate-rich plant foods are rich in beneficial nutrients, so avoiding them may not make you feel your best.

Generally, natural, fiber-rich carbohydrates are healthy, while carbohydrates that are stripped from fiber are not healthy.

If it is a whole, single-ingredient food, it may be a healthy food for most people regardless of the carbohydrate content .

Rather than treating carbohydrates as “good” or “bad,” it’s better to focus onselectChoice of overall carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Nutrition is rarely black and white. But the following foods are better sources of carbohydrates.

  • vegetables. Them all. It is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.
  • Whole fruit. Apples , bananas , strawberries, etc.
  • Beans. Lentils, kidney beans , peas, etc.
  • Nuts almonds , walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.
  • seed. Chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.
  • Whole grains. Choose the granules, which are real whole, in pure oats , quinoa , brown rice, etc.
  • Tubers. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.

These foods may be moderately acceptable to some people, but many people will achieve the best results by avoiding them as much as possible.

  • Sugary drinks. These are sodas, sweetened fruit juices, and drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
  • White bread. These are refined carbohydrates, which are low in essential nutrients and have a negative impact on metabolic health. This applies to most commercially available breads.
  • Pastries, cookies and cakes. These foods are often high in sugar and refined wheat.
  • ice cream. Although there are exceptions, most types of ice cream are high in sugar.
  • Candies and chocolates. If you want to eat chocolate, please choose high-quality dark chocolate.
  • French fries and potato chips. The whole potatoes are healthy. However, French fries and potato chips cannot provide the nutritional benefits provided by the entire potato.
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Natural, fiber-rich carbohydrates are generally healthy. Processed foods containing sugar and refined carbohydrates cannot provide the same nutritional benefits as natural forms of carbohydrates and are more likely to cause adverse health consequences.

In terms of nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The "optimal" carbohydrate intake depends on many factors, such as:

  • age
  • gender
  • Metabolic health
  • physical activities
  • Food Culture
  • Personal preferences

If you are overweight or have diseases such as metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes, you may be sensitive to carbohydrates. In this case, reducing carbohydrate intake may be beneficial .

On the other hand, if you just want to stay healthy, then there is no reason to avoid using "carbohydrates." However, it is still important to eat as many single-component foods as possible.

If your body type is naturally slim and/or physically active, adding a lot of carbohydrates to your diet can even make your body function better.

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