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Advantages & Disadvantages of Carbohydrates

author image Sandi Busch
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Carbohydrates
Whole grains are healthy. Photo Credit: Anna Gugnina/iStock/Getty Images

Carbohydrates provide essential fuel for your body and other health benefits, but they do have some disadvantages. The overconsumption of so-called bad carbs -- refined carbohydrates and added sugars -- leads to weight gain and high levels of triglycerides in your blood. You can avoid the downside by watching the amount you eat and filling your carbohydrate requirement with whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

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Best Fuel For Your Body

Fresh fruits and vegetables.
Fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo Credit: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Sugars and starches, or simple and complex carbohydrates respectively, are digested into glucose, which every cell in your body can metabolize to produce fuel. A steady supply of carbohydrates is especially vital for your brain and to support sustained muscle function during sports and endurance activities, according to Iowa State University. Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates also prevents proteins from being used for energy, which is important because protein has other life-sustaining jobs to fill. Men and women should consume 130 grams of carbohydrates daily, or get 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbs, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Health Benefits From Fiber

Apples are a good source of fiber.
Apples are a good source of fiber. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

The primary sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. They all contain both types of fiber -- soluble and insoluble -- but in different proportions. Fiber is not digested for energy, but it provides other health benefits. Soluble fiber reduces your risk for developing cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol, and also helps prevent spikes in blood sugar. Insoluble fiber ensures regular bowel movements. Higher intakes of fiber may prevent high blood pressure and promote weight loss, according to a report published in the April 2009 issue of “Nutrition Reviews.” The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

Weight Gain

Weight gain.
Weight gain. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

While you can eat more carbohydrates than you should, which means extra calories and potential weight gain, a bigger threat to your weight comes from consuming too much added sugar. Sugar added to foods during processing or preparation doesn't contribute any nutrients and it's quickly digested, so it spikes blood sugar. Excess sugar in your blood triggers the conversion of sugar into fat for storage. Women should limit added sugar to fewer than 6 teaspoons daily, while men should not consume more than 9 teaspoons, according to the American Heart Association.

Health Risks

Blood pressure.
Blood pressure. Photo Credit: ImpaKPro/iStock/Getty Images

Eating refined carbohydrates and foods with added sugar may raise the levels of triglycerides in your blood, according to the University of Massachusetts Medical School. High triglycerides are associated with coronary heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease. The role of added sugar in other health problems continues to be studied and, at the time of publication, much of the research was inconclusive. However, evidence increasingly associates high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with an increased risk for high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease, according to a review of research published in the April 2010 issue of “Physiology and Behavior.”

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