Are carbs really bad for you? New study suggests we need carbs “in moderation” for optimum health

A lot has been said about carbs and the role they play in human health – most of which have led to the popularity of low-carb diets as measures for optimal health. However, a large new study says carbs may not be as bad as many people believe. In fact, a moderate intake of them is essential to good health.

The research, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, followed over 15,000 American adults for 25 years to determine how their intake of carbohydrates affected their health and risk of death. This research also included a meta-analysis that covered seven large studies investigating the relationship between carbohydrates and human health. The said meta-analysis included a total of 430,000 people from different parts of the globe.

Data from Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities, an ongoing observational study of the occurrence of disease in four U.S. communities, was used in the research article. The said study recruited people in the 1980s and had them answer questionnaires about their diet. Participants also had to submit themselves to six physical examinations over a 30-year period, from 1987 to 2017.

According to the research, eating too little or too many carbs led to premature death. That is, following a diet that’s less than 40 percent carbohydrates is as detrimental to your health and lifespan as making carbohydrates more than 70 percent of your caloric intake.

But that’s not the end of the story. The researchers looked into what people replaced their carbs with and how these affected the participants’ health in the long run. They found that those who replaced carbs with animal-based proteins and fats, such as those you’d find in chicken, beef, pork, and dairy, had shorter life spans than those who obtained their proteins and fats from plant sources. These included vegetables, nuts, whole-grain breads, and even peanut butter.

Both studies included in the research article, thus, concluded that carbs play an important role in maintaining optimal health. They must, however, be consumed in moderation as having too little can be just as bad as having too much. Moreover, if you are going to supplement your caloric intake by replacing carbs with protein and fat, obtaining these nutrients from plant-based sources is more beneficial to your health than getting them from animal sources.

Good versus bad carbs

Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source. You need them to be able to perform daily activities, from thinking to exercising. But not all carbs are created equal – some are bad for your body when consumed in large quantities.

There are three types of carbs:

  • Sugars – These sweet carbohydrates are found in many foods and include glucose, sucrose, fructose, and galactose.
  • Starches – These carbohydrates are made up of longer chains than simple sugars but are eventually broken down into glucose by your digestive system.
  • Fiber – Your body cannot digest these carbohydrates, but they act as food for the bacteria that live in your gut.

You may have encountered the distinction between whole and refined carbohydrates. Whole carbohydrates are unprocessed. They are considered better for the body because not only do they contain the fiber naturally present in food, but they are also digested more slowly by your body. Because of this, they don’t cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate rapidly, making you less prone to Type 2 diabetes. Complex carbs are what you get from vegetable, fruits, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.

Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, are processed and have had their natural fiber removed. They are usually found in sweet beverages and foods, white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Refined carbs are linked to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels that increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. They are also known for being addictive and for contributing to an increased risk of obesity.

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