How Carbs Fit Into A Healthy Diet

Bowls and boards of breads, pasta, beans, and grains are arranged on wood. Bananas and potatoes complete the carb-ucopia.

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that make up a healthy, well-balanced diet. Though they’ve become synonymous with processed foods and refined grains, carbs aren’t bad or good, and you don’t need to be on low-carb diet to follow a well-balanced diet. Carbs are found in just about every food and food group like dairy, grains, fruits, and vegetables, and are an important part of balanced nutrition. Below, we’ll explore how carbs fit into a healthy diet and your nutrition.

Functional Role of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy (meaning the body will burn carbs first for fuel) and are necessary for proper brain function and metabolism. Energy from carbohydrates is converted into glucose, which makes it possible for the body to perform all the functions and activity that it does daily.

Carbohydrate Foods

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. It’s important to distinguish between the different types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are short chains of sugar units that provide a quick source of energy. They are found in fruits, dairy products, refined grains, and sugars. Complex carbohydrates are longer chains of sugar units that provide more of a sustained source of energy. They are found in starchy vegetables, whole grains, and fiber-rich foods.

  • Simple carbohydrates: milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, apples, bananas, oranges, kiwi, mango, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fruit juice, white bread, white rice, refined flour baked goods, table sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, honey
  • Complex carbohydrates: beans, lentils, peas, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, oats, wheat, barley, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables containing peel or skin

Both simple and complex carbohydrates are macronutrients that play an important role in energy and can be used throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates can be consumed in the morning and throughout the day to help provide longer lasting energy. Simple carbohydrates are best used throughout the day when you have higher demands for energy.  

Carbohydrates Needs

In general, it is recommended that carbohydrates make up 45-65% of your daily caloric intake, with most of your carbohydrate intake coming from complex carbohydrates. The specific amount of carbohydrates needed will vary based on individual factors such as age, sex, activity level, and goals. When it comes to activity, carbohydrates need vary by length of training and intensity. In general, more carbohydrates may be required the more active you are, the longer you train, and the higher the intensity of your activity.

Carbohydrates are Essential

Carbohydrates are a fundamental part of the diet. All healthy adults and all types of athletes beyond endurance require carbohydrates as part of a healthy well-balance diet. The times you consume each type may depend on your schedule and types of activity. Embrace carbohydrates and use them to your advantage. Keep balance, variety, and moderation in mind all while finding what works best for you, your activity, and your goals.