What are Carbohydrates and Why We Need Them in Our Diet
Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for your body. They are one of the three main macronutrients, with the other two being protein and lipids (fat).
Several fad diets out on the market have encouraged us to think of carbohydrates as a “bad” food. Nutritional Therapists agree that refined sweets and starches shouldn’t be included in a healthy diet. There are carbs from natural sources, however, that can be good for you.
Carbohydrates have many nutritional and mental health benefits and should not be restricted from your diet for several reasons. Although it may take some time to adjust to this concept as you have been conditioned to avoid these foods, do not be afraid to incorporate carbohydrates into your diet.
Here are a few reasons that carbohydrates are important for our mind and bodies:
- Glucose (breakdown of most carbohydrates) is what our brain utilizes for energy
- Fiber (source of carbohydrate) plays an important role in digestive health
- Your brain and gut communicate – the brain is part of the control system for the gut1
- Complex carbohydrates can increase healthy gut bacteria2
- Gut bacteria is associated with mood and mental disorders3
- Carbohydrates are essential for the production of serotonin – serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood
- Inadequate carbohydrate intake can increase cortisol levels, the stress hormone4
- Carbohydrates regulate blood sugar – without carbohydrates, your blood sugar can drop too low and cause lethargy and irritation
It is important to find the appropriate balance with carbohydrate intake – eating too few or too many carbohydrates can alter the production of T3, the thyroid hormone.5 More healthy (complex carbohydrates) should be a part of your diet and unhealthy (refined carbohydrates or simple sugars) should be limited but NOT avoided. Restricting yourself from indulging in some of your favorite treats (i.e., cake, cookies, apple cider donuts) can result in binge eating.
Here are a few healthy carbohydrate (complex carbohydrate) sources:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain or bean based (i.e., chickpea) pasta
- Starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, butternut squash, beets
- Beans (i.e., kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans)
Making sure you find healthy carbohydrate sources is key to maintaining behavior that will encourage healthy eating. Many people believe a no carb diet is a requirement for getting in shape but it can often lead to more severe health problems. Schedule a consultation with a Nutritional Therapist at Behavioral Nutrition for help finding a healthy diet for your specific situation.
- Keefer L, Palsson OS, Pandolfino JE. Best practice update: Incorporating psychogastroenterology into management of digestive disorders. Gastroenterology. 2018;154(5):1249-1257. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2018.01.045.
- Vinke PC, El Aidy S, van Dijk G. The role of supplemental complex dietary carbohydrates and gut microbiota in promoting cardiometabolic and immunological health in obesity: Lessons from healthy non-obese individuals. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2017;4:34. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2017.00034.
- Kennedy PJ, Murphy AB, Cryan JF, Ross PR, Dinan TG, Stanton C. Microbiome in brain function and mental health. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2016;57:289-301. doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2016.05.001.
- Soltani H, Keim NL, Laugero KD. Increasing dietary carbohydrate as part of a healthy whole food diet intervention dampens eight week changes in salivary cortisol and cortisol responsiveness. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2563. doi: 10.3390/nu11112563.
- Pasquali R, Parenti M, Mattioli L, et al. Effect of dietary carbohydrates during hypocaloric treatment of obesity on peripheral thyroid hormone metabolism. Journal of endocrinological investigation. 1982;5(1):47-52. doi: 10.1007/BF03350482.