The Roundup -

What are Carbohydrates and Why Should You Eat Them?


Carbohydrates or “carbs” are sugars, starches, and fibers found in plant and dairy products. Most recently carbs have taken a hit as being “bad” and are now often portrayed as the cause of excessive weight gain. Fortunately for all of us who enjoy these foods that is not true. Carbs are one of the most basic food groups, along with protein and fat. They play an important role in a healthy lifestyle, but, there is a catch… not all carbs are created equal. There are certainly some that do not lend to a healthy lifestyle.

The Bad

The carbs that we should generally avoid include those that are full of refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar, and high in refined grains such as white flour. Often these foods are also low in fiber and nutrients, are high in sodium and may be high in saturated and trans fats. Examples include sugary drinks such as sodas or sports drinks, white bread, rice and pastas, pastries, cakes and candy, and deep-fried foods.

The Good

Good carbohydrates are those that provide us with the boost we need while also supplying us with vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy and often providing us with fiber (important for gut health). Many also are combined with another macronutrient. The last two things slow down the absorption of sugars keeping our blood sugars more steady and our tummies full for longer. Some examples are…

Fruits and Vegetables: while fresh is great, frozen and canned are often more convenient due to their longevity and price. For frozen items look at the ingredients list, often you can find frozen fruits and vegetables with nothing added. When you look at canned fruits, look for those canned in water or natural fruit juice instead of syrup. For canned vegetables stick with low sodium options and add herbs and spices later for variety and flavor.

Whole grains: whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, and oats all fit in this category. Each one has a good amount of fiber and in the case of quinoa even some protein to slow absorption, providing us with lasting fullness.

Dairy products: Milk, cheese and unsweetened yogurt all fit into this category. Depending on your age and disease state low-fat dairy products may be your best choice. These products have a large amount of fat removed but still keep the carbohydrates and protein intake. The only downside is that some fat is essential to absorb certain vitamins so make sure you incorporate healthy fats into your diet if you opt for 1% or skim milk.

So yes, some carbohydrates are better than others; most nutritionists stress the importance of finding moderation. Most would advise against eating a pastry for breakfast every day, though there is nothing wrong with enjoying a piece of birthday cake on your special day, or surprising someone you love with a chocolate chip cookie. The problem comes from eating too many of these processed carbohydrates too often and not eating enough of the complex carbohydrates that fuel our minds and keep our bodies healthy. This is true for everyone whether you are looking to change your weight on the scale or just trying to follow a healthy lifestyle.

For more information and ideas on including good carbohydrates into your lifestyle, check out the Richland County Nutrition Coalition Facebook page at, and the Pinterest page at


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