Carbohydrate Controversy

By: Cassidy Hobbs
Johnston County FCS Agent

There are lots of diets out there right now with “low-carb” diets being one of them. Cutting back on carbohydrates is not necessarily a bad thing. Cutting back or cutting out refined carbohydrates reaps health benefits, but before you decide to cut carbs, make sure you understand the different types.

Sugar, starch, and fiber are all forms of carbohydrates, effecting you in different ways. There are “simple carbohydrates” and “complex carbohydrates.” Simple carbohydrates are essentially sugars that are broken down quickly, resulting in short bursts of energy and spikes in blood sugar followed by a drop in blood sugar which leaves you hungry and craving more. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruit, dairy, products with added sugars, and products made from refined grains. The best source of simple carbohydrates come from the natural sugars found in fruit and dairy. Simple carbohydrates from added sugars, however, can have negative health effects as added sugar has been shown to increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease and offers no nutritional benefit. Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and baked goods are made from flour that has been “refined” or “enriched” which means the fiber and vitamins have been stripped away from the wheat kernel. Refined carbohydrates are associated with chronic illnesses. Due to increased consumption of processed foods made with refined grains, researchers have seen a spike in obesity and diabetes in adults and children.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that naturally contain lots of fiber. Fiber moves through the digestive system slowly, keeping you fuller for longer periods of time, avoiding those spikes and dips in blood sugar that cause hunger. Fiber decreases your risk of obesity, diabetes, cancers, and heart disease, as well as helps to manage blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Examples of complex carbohydrates are things like brown rice, oats, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, vegetables, and beans.

Nearly everything we eat contains carbohydrates. What matters most is if our carbohydrates are simple or complex carbohydrates. Net carbohydrates are how many carbohydrates break down into simple carbohydrates. This is found by examining the nutrition label and subtracting the grams of fiber from the grams of carbohydrates.  It isn’t that we should never consume simple carbohydrates, but complex carbohydrates are the most important and should make up the bulk of our carbohydrate consumption. Remember, complex carbohydrates offer the fiber and the health benefits. Try out this recipe for delicious, complex carbohydrates, and support Johnston County’s sweet potato farmers.

For more information, contact Cassidy Hobbs at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Johnston County Center at 919-989-5380 or