What’s the first food that comes to mind when you hear the word “carbs?” Doughy bread, comforting pasta, decadent chocolate cake and glazed donuts might be at the top of the list. But what about crunchy carrots, juicy oranges, hearty whole grain toast and a cold glass of milk? Whether the foods mentioned are deemed healthy or not, they have one thing in common; they all contain carbohydrates!

As a nutrition professional, I’ve examined the pros and cons of carbohydrates. More than half of the material I discuss with friends, family members, clients and strangers is about carbohydrates. A recurring negative theme surrounding these conversations revolves around a sense of guilt that comes with eating carbohydrates. “I don’t eat carbs,” “carbs are bad for you,” and “carbs make you fat,” are just a few phrases I hear about carbohydrates being the enemy. Let’s face it, carbs get a bad rap.

But carbohydrates are your friends!

In true rebuttal form I would argue the opposite. You plus carbs equals best friends forever — like Batman and Robin, Romy and Michele, Harry and Hermione and peanut butter and jelly. Carbohydrates are always there for you when you need them. This is why they are your friends. You need an energy boost. You’re craving some comfort foods. You’re on a ‘diet.’ What do you turn to? Carbs!

Because there is a lot of confusion about carbohydrates, here’s your CARBS 101 cram session to set the record straight…

Why carbohydrates are your friends:

  1. Your body needs carbohydrates! You read the previous statement correctly. Carbohydrates are essential to have an adequate and balanced diet. Their primary function is to be used as an energy source (glucose). Hence, we need them to maintain brain function and for muscle function — those are good enough reasons to eat carbs, right?
  2. Know your carbohydrates! Not all carbs are created equal Understanding what types of carbohydates you are eating is key. The two types of carbohydrates are simple and complex. We turn to them for different reasons and they both affect our bodies differently.
    • Simple carbohydrates: Include sugars AKA carbohydrates in their simplest form. Natural sources of simple carbohydrates include fruits and milk products. Other simple carbohydrates that should be limited in the diet include refined and processed sugars (think: sodas, candies, baked goods, etc.). These carbohydrates tend to be “empty calories” because they are energy dense and nutrient deficient. They’ll also increase your blood sugar quickly, which will then be followed by a crash shortly after if the food does not contain fiber and/or protein in addition to the carbohydrate (i.e. your favorite candy).
    • Complex carbohydrates: Include starches and fibers found in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. They are complex because of their chemical structure — they are made up of many bonded sugar units. These carbohydrates take longer to digest compared to simple carbohydrates, and therefore create a slow and steady increase in blood sugar that is stabilized. They also have various benefits because they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber! Fiber is important to have in your diet because it keeps you fuller longer, has heart healthy benefits (lowering cholesterol effects), and creates regular bowel movements.
  3. We all eat carbs! Newsflash: You eat carbs, your friends eat carbs, we all eat carbs! Slash the guilt associated with carbohydrates because in reality carbohydrates are your friends. If carbs are the enemy, then be sure to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

So, remember, carbohydrates are your friends because they provide you with the energy you need to get you through your day. Let’s take the guilt out of eating carbs and work on improving our diets in a balanced and effective way. Aim to eat the right kind of carbohydrates for fuel and performance. Everything in moderation, and you’re good to go!

*Post edited from previously published work on Fiterazzi.com, an online magazine founded by Jackelyn and Cassey Ho (of Blogilates), that “talks about body image and keeps it real when it comes to nutrition and exercise.” Fiterazzi was acquired by Spright.com.

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