What’s the truth about carbs?

Jun 9, 2021

St. Joseph’s Hospital clinical dietitian talks about complex vs. simple carbohydrates and the importance of moderation for this macronutrient

When you think of carbohydrates do you think of breads and pastas, potatoes and rice? Yes, those are types of carbohydrates but there are many others and not all are bad for you.

In fact, it’s important to get a portion of carbohydrates in your meals throughout the day to keep your body properly energized.

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, one of the three major nutrients your body needs – carbs, fat and protein. Carbohydrates are your body’s main and preferred source of energy, explains Mari Fall Hewitt, clinical dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Mari Fall, St. Joseph's Hospital dietitian

“When your body digests carbohydrates, it turns into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and your body uses that for energy,” Hewitt says.

So why do carbs have such a bad reputation if our bodies need them for energy?

“I feel like people look at them in a bad light, especially with all the diets out there cutting out carbs,” Hewitt says. “I always encourage people to eat them, even diabetics, because that is how your body prefers to get energy, and it’s a better source of energy for your body.”

The key – like most things in life – is moderation, Hewitt says. She also says it’s important to choose the right type of carbohydrate.

Complex vs. Simple Carbs

Carbohydrates are made up of three components: fiber, starch and sugar. Fiber and starch are complex carbs, while sugar is a simple carb, Hewitt says. Complex carbs keep you feeling full and take longer to digest than simple carbs, thus your blood glucose levels don’t spike as fast.

“Complex carbs tend to be classified as your healthier carbohydrate because they give you nutrients and help keep you full longer versus your simple carbohydrates which are more just your sugars. You don’t get much from them, and they spike your blood sugar pretty fast and don’t keep you full.”

Related Article: Fiber: The unsung hero in weight management, digestion and lowering cholesterol

Some examples of complex carbs are:

  • Leafy greens and vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains, such as quinoa, barley or oats
  • Fiber-rich fruits, such as apples,  berries and bananas
  • Nuts

While your simple carbs are:

  • Sugary sodas
  • Baked treats, such as pastries and doughnuts
  • Fruit juices made with concentrate
  • Breakfast cereals

Related Article: St. Joseph’s/Candler dietitian offers tips to reduce sugar in your diet

All in moderation

Choosing the right carbohydrates can take some trial and error, but Hewitt encourages you not to totally dismiss them from your diet. She recommends the MyPlate method, which is half your plate of leafy greens and/or non-starchy vegetables. Then, one-fourth of the plate a lean protein, and the last portion a complex carbohydrate.

“I encourage people to eat carbs throughout the day, but choose the ones that give you energy,” Hewitt says. “Doing low-carb or even no-carb long-term isn’t sustainable. Your body wants to use carbohydrates to create the energy it needs.”

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