What are carbohydrates anyways?

There is a lot of hype around the term carbohydrate. Some of it is true, and some of it is false. I hope this post clears some things up for you about what a carbohydrate really is and what it is not.

Side note: There is ALL sorts of controversy on how many carbohydrates your body needs in order to function properly. I am not even going to go into all of that and besides, everybody is different and has unique needs. I could probably write 10 more posts just on this topic. What I am going to do today is just explain to you what a carbohydrate (or “carb” for short) actually is and why your body needs it.

The Myth:

Carbs are bad for you.

NOT TRUE. We need carbs for energy. I explain below. 


Carbohydrates are one of three “macronutrients”. Macronutrient is a big word for nutrients your body needs in large amounts. There are three of these. They are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The body gets energy mainly from carbs and fat. (There are also micronutrients that your body needs in order to function, which we won’t discuss in this post, but those are vitamins and minerals you hear about like vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, etc.)

Anywho, carbohydrates break down to sugar. So really, carbohydrate is a fancy term for sugar. BBUTTT not so fast. Don’t freak out. Sugar is a term that has become evil in the nutrition world and especially in the mainstream community. The type of sugar (glucose and fructose) I am going to be talking about is what your body needs to have energy. Not talking about a skittle here.

In school we learned that there was no such thing as “bad” carbs or “bad” foods, but that every food has a place. Well, I challenge that. I say there are bad foods and bad carbs. Simply put, there are foods that are BAD and not even FOOD. Why would we want to eat something full of chemicals that will send our body into overload? I’M LOOKIN’ AT YOU ZEBRA CAKES! If we are talking about real food that comes from the earth, then I do agree that there aren’t foods you can label as “bad”. But when talking about carbohydrates, most of them that we eat in America are processed and refined and are BAD for you. Our bodies do not need them.

Healthy carbohydrates are found mostly in fruits, vegetables, starches and grains. I think most people think of bread and pasta when they hear the term carbohydrate. Yes, you are correct. BUT I would like to call these food products “processed carbohydrates”. They act like carbohydrates because they are derived from grains. But they are lacking a whole lot of other nutrients in there that other unprocessed carbohydrates have. They have been processed out (and some nutrients manually put back in: this is called enrichment). The REAL carbohydrates are the ones that are not man made. They come from the earth. We do nothing to “process” them. Take a look below.

NUTRIENT DENSE carbohydrates (not an exhaustive list)

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • White Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Butternut Squash

Your body needs NUTRIENT DENSE carbohydrates. Please do not skip on the banana for breakfast because you have heard it has too much sugar. The type of “sugar” it has is natural and the banana has so many nutrients that your body needs (potassium, vitamin B6, fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, etc). Studies show that eating whole fresh fruit may decrease your risk of obesity and diabetes.

We cannot only look at the grams of sugar to indicate whether a food is good for you or not. The important things to note are the type and quality of the food as well as what other nutrients your body gets from the food. 


EMPTY carbohydrates

  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • English Muffin
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Bagels
  • Pretzels
  • Granola Bars
  • Pizza
  • Pancakes
  • Biscuits
  • Waffles
  • Tortillas

Compare the banana to a slice of bread. The bread has less fiber, less potassium, less vitamin C, and pretty much less of all other nutrients. The sugar listed on the nutrition facts label for the slice of bread is listed as 1.77 grams. The banana is listed as 16.63 grams. So you might look at them and tell yourself you are going to eat that piece of bread because you heard sugar is bad for you.

I am here to tell you that you are WAY BETTER off eating that banana than that slice of bread. You get a lot more nutrients with each bite of a banana than a single slice of bread. Not to mention, a banana has ONE INGREDIENT. Bread (100% whole wheat) has many many more (seventeen!!!). If you don’t believe me, click here. That is just one brand I looked at. I won’t go into all of those ingredients and why they are bad for you in this post, but just know that we have to look deeper than what is on the label and the nutrition facts panel. We have to look at the QUALITY and not the quantity of a nutrient.

I am not saying this to knock bread and tell you to never eat it (I would recommend eating bread that has natural ingredients if you want to eat it). What I am saying is that I think there is a huge misconception out there that you have to eat 100% whole wheat bread because it is full of nutrients you need and you have to make sure you get enough carbs/fiber. Well, bread is not your source for those things. Fruits and vegetables should be your main source. I don’t know how but I think we have been convinced that we have to eat bread because it is packed full of fiber and vitamins/minerals (side note: 1 slice of bread has 3 grams of fiber and 1 cup of broccoli has 5 grams of fiber). We will talk about fiber in another post.


I want to help you understand that we can’t put the label “carbohydrates” on man-made foods and real foods and group them together. Fruits and vegetables give you NATURAL carbs and a lot of other nutrients your body needs. Bread and pasta give you carbs that are processed with very little nutrients to offer for your body.

Eating a whole foods diet with natural carbohydrates will provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs. Most people tolerate fruits and vegetables just fine without any problems. If you do have problems digesting these foods, we need to look deeper at what might be happening in your gut. But in general, most people do not have problems eating these foods. Find the ones you like and eat them.

I hope you took from this post that eating carbohydrates is so good for you and you need them to survive. BUT, they need to be whole foods that are not packaged and made in a factory. The amount of carbs you eat depends on your situation and what your goals are. If you are generally healthy, you shouldn’t have to count your carbs or restrict them. In America it is very hard to eat more than the amount of fruits and vegetables we are supposed to. So go at it! 


For breakfast, eat a banana.
For lunch, have some blueberries.
For dinner, eat some broccoli.

We don’t need to complicate things. Start adding these foods INTO your meals, rather than taking things out. Start there. Then we can think about what we need to eliminate.

That’s all for now! I hope this helps. Contact me with any questions and don’t forget to subscribe to receive my weekly posts!

**All of this information applies to an average healthy individual. If you have a health condition such as diabetes, there is more specific information about this and it does matter how many grams of sugar/carbs you eat each day. If you have questions about this and this applies to you, please contact me!

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