Carbohydrate, when turned into blood glucose, is our main source of energy for our cells, tissues, and organs, including our brain. Dissing carbs as pure dietary evil, as many have, therefore, is pretty brainless. You can't link all carbohydrates into the same category as, say, a Gummi Bear. It doesn't take a nutrition degree to figure out that a bartlett pear makes a better choice than a sugar bear.
When looking to place a "#1 worst" label on something that can be fuel for your brain, then, you'd better find a carb with no redeeming qualities. That wasn't hard for Eatthis.com medical board member Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, a registered dietitian. "I have to go with the carbs from the sugar in soda," says the founder of Real Nutrition. "These carbs are quickly consumed, do not fill you up, spike blood sugar, and provide no nutritional value. They easily meet or exceed your daily added sugar recommendation in just one 12-ounce serving."
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says sugar-sweetened beverages like soda are likely a key contributor to the epidemic of overweight and obesity in the United States because of their high added sugar content and low satiety. High fructose corn syrup, one of the most common ingredients in soda, has specifically been linked to increased abdominal fat—aka belly fat—due to its higher levels of fructose.
Medical board member Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, notes that it's not just the added cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soda to be wary of but added sugars from sources like beet sugar, molasses, and syrups like those you put on pancakes and squirt into your coffee. "Excess added sugar intake, especially when eaten in place of other more nutrient-dense foods on a regular basis, is associated with chronic disease and inflammation," she says.
Processed carbs are generally unhealthy in most cases.
It's also important to be aware that while sugary beverages go down a lot quicker than, say, a croissant or a bagel, they share the same quick-absorbing carb makeup. "The challenge is that processed sugars are found in so many places in the diet from cookies and baked goods to fancy coffee drinks, to breakfast bars and snack foods, and oftentimes, even found in various cooked dishes and sauces," says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and also a member of our medical review board.
As a certified specialist in sports dietetics, Goodson is keenly aware of high-fiber carbs' role in fueling athletic performance. "No one food causes anything," she warns. "It's foods eaten consistently that can have an effect on health status and disease. Refined or processed sugars top the charts when we talk about increasing your risk for weight gain and disease risk."
Unfortunately, those are the types of foods most American tend to consume a lot of.
With a healthy eating pattern, simple carbs—in moderation—won't derail your diet.
If you're eating pattern is primarily nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy omega-3 rich fatty foods, and sugar pops up here and there, it tends to have little effect on your health, dietitians say. So, it's not helpful to label any one food as "bad."
A much smarter approach is understanding where added sugars are found and keeping consumption to a minimum so you can enjoy your favorite dessert or treat without worry or guilt.
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