Carbs Are Good for You — and You Might Need More of Them
Here's why the no-carb trend is total nonsense.
I’m not sure how we got here but wellness fads have managed to position carbs as something people should eat less of. They’ve been blamed for everything from diabetes to acne, which is unfortunate because they’re an essential food group with innumerable benefits. I’ve noticed that there’s lots of confusion around what carbohydrates actually are, so let’s start there.
Carbohydrates, along with fats and proteins, are considered a macronutrient and are the body’s preferred source of fuel. They help the brain, kidneys, heart and other major organs function by providing the body with energy and a range of essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The three types of carbohydrates are starches; such as potatoes, peas, corn, rice and other grains; sugars, which can take the form of added sugars but also includes natural sugars found in fruits and dairy products; and then there’s fiber, which comes from plant foods and plays a major role in digestion.
Experts typically recommend that most of our plate consist of carb-rich foods, with fibrous vegetables taking up half the plate. The other half would be divided between starchy carbohydrates and protein. Restricting carb intake can result in fatigue, hunger, headaches, weakness and other unpleasant side effects that serve as a red flag that your body is not getting proper nourishment.
Are Some Carbs Better Than Others?
I mentioned that carbs include everything from vegetables, beans, potatoes, squash, plantains, quinoa and yogurt. It also includes foods that are more processed like chips, cookies, cake, breads and sugary drinks. All of these foods provide our body with energy, however the latter list tends to provide less nutrients compared to foods like vegetables and grains. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad or that you need to stay away from them completely. They play a major role in making food enjoyable and it’s not always about bulking up on fiber. You can honor your health and enjoy a variety of carb-rich foods by deciding what carbs you enjoy most and how you want to incorporate them into your eating habits.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat?
I recommend always (and I repeat, always) having some type of carbohydrate as part of your meal, and having at least three complete meals per day. For your morning meal, it can be something as simple as fruit with yogurt or toast with eggs. If you’re into snacking, foods like dried fruit, nuts and snack bars are a great source of carbohydrates and will help you feel more satisfied especially when paired with protein and/or fat. If you’re very active, you may notice that you need to up the carbs since they help to provide fuel for your muscles. Contrary to what you may have heard, carbohydrates are an essential part of nourishment for everyone, but especially for people who are physically active. There’s no need to go low-carb, even for people who have diabetes and aside from being unsustainable for most, why would anyone want to miss out on such a satisfying and nutritious food group?
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.