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Carbs: Why do people think they’re bad?

carbs, carbs are not bad

Carbohydrates. What comes to your mind when you read that? This nutrient receives an undeservedly negative reputation through no fault of its own. They’re so misunderstood.

Many people avoid them. They have the idea they’re bad. They’re not. Nearly 100 percent of carbs break down to glucose in the body. That’s a good thing because glucose gives us energy.  All macronutrients—carbs, fats, proteins—give us energy because they have calories. Carbs though are very efficient at providing fuel—glucose, needed by every cell.  And it’s the preferred energy source for our brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells.


carbs are not badA major problem? Overconsumption. But ANY macronutrient can be overconsumed. (Alcohol as well, although it’s obviously a nonnutrient.)

Blame it on the carb—it’s easy to because of the abundance in our food supply. Back in the 80s—the low-fat era—there was a push to get fat out of the diet. However if something is removed, something has to replace it, right? As fat intake went down in food products, carb intake—especially refined carbohydrates and sugar went up.

Fat serves a purpose, a useful purpose! It provides flavor, texture, mouthfeel, etc.

What happened with salad dressing? Low fat and fat-free salad dressings appeared on store shelves. What replaced the fat? Most often sugar or other non-nutritive sweeteners.

Reduced fat peanut butter. Take out some fat? Replace it with sugar.

Some of the worst culprits were pastries and sweets. People were buying reduced fat, low fat, fat-free versions of foods like crazy. Remember SnackWell’s in the green package? Introduced in 1992 every type of cookie or sweet appeared to come out of nowhere branded fat free from SnackWell’s. However…

Fat free does not mean calorie free

Fat free does not mean calorie free. Or sugar-free.

Interestingly fat intake declined in food products back in the low fat era, but according to USDA Food Consumption data, overall fat intake increased since 1970 as have sugar and flour/cereal products. On a positive note, from its peak in 1999, sugar declined (Source: ERS USDA Food consumption and nutrient intakes).

But blame it on the carbohydrate. Did people reduce fat intake and increase carb intake from fruits, veggies, whole grains, and other nutrient-rich carbs? No.

There’s a multitude of reasons waistlines have increased over the years. Refined carbs and sugars certainly didn’t help but neither did added fats and oils.

In my next few posts I’ll discuss sources of carbohydrates, the difference between simple and complex carbs, why some carbs have more calories, the importance of fiber, and how our body regulates blood glucose. Videos are posted of each if you’re ready to learn more now!


Photo credits: and

Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach
@JenniferNeily Twitter | @NeilyonNutrition Instagram

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