Does Carbohydrate Intake Improve Health? Does Carbohydrate Intake Improve Health?

Carbohydrates and health

In modern society, carbs have been condemned for being the villain that makes us put on weight.


High Protein / High Fat / Low Carb diets are very popular, with the “Atkins diet”, “Keto”, the “Zone”, “Paleo” being some examples.


Nutrigenius has encountered many clients that admit that “their diet has been very bad because they have been consuming carbs”.


Evidently, the belief that “carbs are bad” is growing.


So what does science show in regards to carbohydrate intake and health?


Well… science tells us a different story.


Unprocessed carbs are excellent sources of energy, dietary fiber and vitamin B.


They are of paramount importance as certain cells in the body, such the red blood cells, certain kidney and brain cells and cells in the retina, rely exclusively or predominantly on deriving their energy from glucose, which is the product of carbohydrate metabolism.1,2


More so, a diet rich in unrefined carbs contributes to wellbeing and feeling well.


Recent research findings in the fields of Neuroimmunophysiology and Chrononutrition showed that intake of unprocessed carbs improves sleep quality, sleep duration and feeling of rest.3 Subsequently this correlates with a positive effect on productivity and performance.4


But which carb sources are good?


Not all carb sources are the same. Unprocessed / unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are beneficial for health.5


Whole grains have not been stripped of their hull or processed to remove the fiber. The Harvard School of Public Health says that means they’ve “got a carbohydrate package rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, plant enzymes, hormones, and hundreds of other phytochemicals.” A form of complex carbohydrates, whole grains take longer to break down and digest. Choose brown rice, pasta, wholemeal bread, quinoa, bulgur and buckwheat.


Fresh vegetables, fruits and legumes are also great sources of unprocessed carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables, e.g. potatoes, and legumes are considered complex carbohydrates and work in your body much like whole grains.


Fruits and non-starchy vegetables are considered simple carbohydrates because their sugars break down more rapidly. When they’re fresh or minimally altered, they contain fiber and a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Processing them into juices, jams, pies, candies and other foods typically removes the fiber and strips away some of the nutrients.


So then why have these low-carb Fad diets been so popular?


Well, because they may be effective in weight loss.


All these diets are based on the same premise, that is caloric restriction. Ingesting less than before. Provided that the activity will be the same, and in sometimes higher, when people are motivated to diet, this will result in weight loss.


However, since these diets have only been widely used in the past two decades, large data on indices of general health and longevity are lacking. (The Atkins diet was developed in the 60s by American cardiologist Robert Atkins, however it was not until 2003-4 that it gained its widespread popularity.)


High protein low-carbohydrate diets, rely on fat and ketones for fuelling purposes. Since as mentioned, a diet to be effective needs to incorporate caloric restriction, fat is kept low and thus ketones (a fuel derived from protein) are used.


The Harvard Medical School warns about the risks of any ketogenic diet.6 Ketones can fuel the brain, but not as effectively as glucose does. Certain operations slow down, and also they are toxic in prolonged periods of time. The health of the intestine a lot of times suffers too. This happens due to the lack of certain forms of fiber found in carbohydrate-containing foods. Sleep quality deteriorates, with great sleep latency, increased sleep fragmentation index and greater nocturnal activity. This results in the person not feeling well rested, showing lower energy levels and a decrease in productivity, focus and performance.


On the contrary a diet rich in unprocessed carbohydrates such as the traditional Mediterranean diet has been shown for years that it confers beneficial effects on longevity, health and wellness. Novel studies explore further the role of carbohydrates on increasing lifespan and quality of life.7


So before you seek the quick fix, think of the long-term health effects. If you are unsure of which is the right diet for you, book an appointment with one of our accredited practicing dietitians at Nutrigenius to guide you in finding the right nutrition plan to achieve your short- and long-term health and fitness goals.


Stay healthy and enjoy fresh unprocessed foods!


The Nutrigenius Team




1.  Joyal JS, Gantner ML, Smith LEH. Retinal energy demands control vascular supply of the retina in development and disease: The role of neuronal lipid and glucose metabolism. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2018;64:131‐156. doi:10.1016/j.preteyeres.2017.11.002

2.  El Bacha, T., Luz, M. & Da Poian, A. (2010) Dynamic Adaptation of Nutrient Utilization in Humans. Nature Education 3(9):8

3.  Tan X, Alén M, Cheng SM, et al. Associations of disordered sleep with body fat distribution, physical activity and diet among overweight middle-aged men. J Sleep Res. 2015;24(4):414‐424. doi:10.1111/jsr.12283

4.  Kanter M. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutr Today. 2018;53(1):35‐39. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000238