Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Carbs. Good for you? Bad for you? Low carb, high carb, no carb? Carbohydrates have recently been under a lot of scrutiny that makes it hard for the average person to decide what role carbs will have in their own diet.
Here's a simple guide to carbs to clarify the muddy waters.
1. What is a carb?
Carb, short for carbohydrate, is a macronutrient composed of sugar molecules that are further broken down into the union of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Carbs are broken down by the body to give you energy.
2. What is the purpose of carbs?
Energy! Believe it or not, carbs are the preferred fuel source for your body because they provide fast-acting energy for your body to function.
3. Are there "good" and "bad" carbs?
This is a tricky one. But here is a good general rule. If you are eating full, non-processed foods these are most likely a better carb option than highly processed carbs.
For example, a full sweet potato is a better source of carbohydrates than white bread.
When people talk about good and bad carbs they are usually talking about how long it takes for the carbs to break down into sugars and be used by the body. For the average Joe, a good carb like whole grains has the benefit of breaking down slowly so not only do you have a steady energy source you aren't hungry five minutes after eating it.
Meanwhile, if you are a marathon runner looking for an immediate source of sugar for energy you might pick a bagel or some pretzels.
4. How much of my diet should be carbohydrates?
This is another challenging question. Technically, carbs are a non-essential macronutrient. That's right. Your body doesn't actually NEED carbs. However, a proper dose of carbs can help supply energy to your nervous system, help you build muscle, and help you engage in endurance activities.
So while the answer is you actually don't need carbs in your diet, here is a better guideline for those of us that still love us some carbs.
If you are not very active:
1-1.25g per lb of your body weight
If you are somewhat active:
1.25-1.5g per lb of your body weight
If you are very active:
1.5-1.75g per lb of your body weight
5. What counts as a carb?
What many people don't realize until they go on a low carb diet is that carbs are also found in fruits and vegetables. So if you are at a stage of dieting that you are tracking your macronutrients, you should know that many fruits and veggies have relatively high levels of carbs.
This does NOT mean you should avoid fruits and vegetables, but they do have naturally occurring sugars that contribute to the overall macronutrient levels.
In conclusion ... carbs are not the enemy. Stick to complex, or "good", carbs that are not processed and keep you full longer. Enjoy simple, or "bad", carbs in moderation.
And to answer the lifelong question - No, butter is not a carb!