Carbohydrates and Health


by Michael J Horan, MD, MPH, FACP

MD_horan-michael-mipcCarbohydrates represent the single largest component of the human diet. Simply put, they are essential for our bodies to create the energy necessary to drive all our biochemical and physiological processes. But because carbohydrates are so ubiquitous, they oftentimes can become a double-edged sword. Overweight and obesity result much more from excess carbohydrates in our diet than they do from excess calories due to fats or proteins. So what to do to avoid becoming overweight or obese or to correct these problems?

First, know that carbohydrates can be complex (e.g. grains, rice, pasta) or simple (e.g. sugar, fructose, candy). Complex carbohydrates are generally more healthy than simple ones because they provoke less insulin secretion and lead to fewer metabolic diseases like diabetes than do simple carbohydrates when ingested in excess. Second, it is important to offset any excess caloric intake with exercise, which besides promoting and maintaining a healthy weight, has been shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular health by promoting physiological fitness, lowering blood pressure, lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol.

But in this fast-paced 21st century, our increased dietary sophistication, notwithstanding, what do we know from research that can help us stay lean when we do not always have the time to eat prudently?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the federal government’s arm for research into health and disease. In the link below, find out the latest thinking at the NIH about what we know and do not know about natural sweets and artificial sweeteners here: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/Oct2014/Feature1.