When it comes to losing weight and dieting, there are so many conflicting views on carbohydrates. Are carbohydrates good for you or bad?  Should you be on low carb diet?  What exactly constitutes a low carb diet? 

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients.  The others are protein and fats. Carbohydrates are starchy foods such as rice, pasta, and potatoes.  They are an important source of energy for cellular metabolism.  Carbohydrates are considered good or bad mostly based on the impact they have on blood sugar after digestion. This impact is measured by what is called the Glycemic Index.

The glycemic index measures how fast a particular food will raise blood sugar after consumption.  Foods that raise blood sugar quickly are considered high glycemic index foods.  Conversely foods that raise blood sugar slowly are considered low glycemic index foods. The reason this is important is because of a hormone called insulin.  Insulin is made in the pancreas.  It’s main job is to maintain normal blood sugar.  After carbohydrates are digested, they are broken to glucose.  This leads to a rise in blood glucose. In response the pancreas releases insulin to bring the blood sugar back to normal.  High glycemic index foods lead to a high spike in blood sugar and a higher surge of insulin.  Over time the cells become less responsive to insulin leading to a condition called insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is leads to inflammation and is a gateway to multiple chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cancer, dementia to mention but a few. 

Low glycemic index foods are complex, usually rich in fiber and not overly processed.  They do not raise the blood sugar that high, thus the risk of insulin resistance is much less. 

Examples of lower glycemic index foods or good carbs include:

  • Vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, egg plants, berries.  Starchy vegetables such as corn are higher on the glycemic index scale.
  • Fruits such as apples, pears, oranges.  Consume fruits in moderate amounts. 
  • Sweet potato rather than white potato
  • Brown rice instead of white rice
  • Chickpea pasta instead of regular pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Other legumes

Examples of high glycemic index carbs or bad carbs include:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Candies
  • Chips such as potato chips
  • Pastries
  • Baked goods
  • Sweetened drinks

Consumption of moderate amounts of low glycemic diet is a reasonable part of a healthy diet.  Choose wisely.

Ife Ojugbeli, MD, MBA.