Are Carbs Really that Bad For You?



Various diets and eating fads may have painted the picture for many people of the big, bad carb – giving the impression that carbohydrates are something to be avoided if you want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. But the fact is that in order to lose or maintain a healthy weight, the key does not lie in eliminating all carbs, but in understanding that some kinds of carbs are better than others – and trying to incorporate the better ones into your diet.


All carbohydrates contain sugars – these sugars exist in several different forms and go by a variety of names. Digestion is in large part a process where our bodies extract the sugars from carbohydrates and turn them into fuel, which is either burned or stored up. Burning the fuel is good because it means we are active enough to make efficient use of the food we eat. Storage of a little fuel is okay, but excessive storage of fuel is not good because it turns into body fat.


Our bodies want to get at the sugars contained in carbs as we digest them – the faster they are able to get to them means the more likely there will excess sugars to store in the body (and to turn to fat). How fast our bodies can extract the sugar from the carbs we eat differs depending on various factors. The major factor that slows the absorption of sugar is fiber. White bread, white rice, soda, pastries, and such foods have little fiber in them and are quickly and easily converted into sugar by the body. On the other hand, whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and other whole grain products have more fiber and are more difficult for the body to extract sugar from.  So, again, the key is not to avoid all carbs, but to choose whole grain products.


Carbohydrates should not be eliminated from the diet altogether because they are an important fuel source that the body needs for physical activity and proper organ function. Carbs supply the body with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that can promote good health. So healthy carbs are a part of a healthy diet.


Healthier carbs that help properly nourish the body include:

  • whole grains
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • beans
  • high-fiber cereals


The more easily digested carbs, when eaten in large quantities, can contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and even lead to certain kinds of medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. These types of carbs include:  

  • white bread
  • white rice
  • pastries
  • sugared sodas
  • other highly processed foods


So what steps can you take to incorporate the better carbs into your diet and do it in a healthy way?

1)      Talk to your parents about making the switch to whole grain products. Make sure that while bread, white rice, pastries, sugared sodas, and highly processed foods are either not kept in the house at all or are only in the house on rare occasions. 

2)      Stock the kitchen with things like whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pastas, beans, and grains such as quinoa, whole oats, and bulgur. Keep plenty of fruits and vegetables around. Look for items such as pita bread, wraps, crackers, and other foods that are made from whole grain – supermarkets are carrying more and more of these types of products. 

3)      Include healthy portions of whole grain foods, vegetables, fruits, and beans into your meals and snacks. 

4)      Keep in mind the saying that there is such thing as too much of a good thing. While whole grain foods are good for the body, it is still important to maintain reasonable servings so that you do not take in an excessive amount of calories that will not be burned off. 

5)      To learn more about how many servings a day of carbs you should have each day (as well as recommended servings of other foods), read about the food pyramid in More On Eating Healthy.


The key here is to remember that losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is not about focusing on a no-carb or low-carb diet – but in eating a well-balanced diet of proteins, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and whole grains and ensuring that you choose the right kinds of carbs when you plan out your meals.


If you have any questions about maintaining a healthy diet, FX recommends that you start by speaking with your primary care physician, a nutritionist, health teacher, or your school nurse. If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network healthcare providers.