Carbs are great for energy, right?

Carbohydrates are one of the more controversial of the macronutrients. You will see heated debates illustrating the benefits of both low carbohydrate diets and high carbohydrate diets. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has become a high carbohydrate diet. Many experts believe this has fueled the current health crisis and the rising rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These experts prefer a diet based more on protein and fat.

We use carbohydrates for energy. They provide quick energy. Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose which feeds our brain and red blood cells. Ever notice how irritable you get when hungry? The brain does not operate very well without nourishment. When we need energy our brain lets us know!

So, no argument whether or not we need carbohydrates. The critical point is how much of our diet should be devoted to carbohydrates, what the source of the carbohydrate should be, and what other forms of energy are available to us.

We have two main options for energy: carbohydrates and fat. When it comes to providing energy for our body each does it differently. Think of a fire. A carbohydrate is like a piece of paper. You put it in the paper and it burns up quickly and to keep the fire burning more paper is needed quickly. Fat is like a log. It burns smoothly, steady, and for a much longer period of time. What can we conclude? Carbohydrates will certainly help us in the short term, but for sustained energy over the long term fat is the fuel of choice.

If you find your energy levels going up and down all day with blood sugar highs and crashes then you are likely fueling yourself primarily with carbohydrates. If you find your energy levels smooth and even throughout the day you are likely getting a good mixture for your body and activity level.

What carbohydrates are best for me?

When most of us think carbohydrate we think grains, breads, and sweets. They are not the only choice. Vegetables and fruits contain carbohydrates as well.

Remember this simple equation. To your body: CARBOHYDRATE = SUGAR! That’s all you need to know. If we consume lots of carbohydrates (like 60% or more of our diet as recommended by the USDA) we consume lots of sugar. While sugar can be used for energy, excess sugar is converted into fat and stored and has many adverse affects on the body. The bottom line – it is sugar (excess carbohydrates) that makes us fat! The experts that I referenced above recommend that carbohydrates be approximately 30-40% of your daily calories and no more than 150 grams per day. If you are looking to balance blood sugars and lose weight they will go as low as 60 grams per day.

For a more complete look at the dangers of excess sugar I recommend this web site: and particularly this page:

The best source of carbohydrates is VEGETABLES. They can be eaten as raw or steamed, preferably the lower carbohydrate vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower) with two meals per day and snacks. It is best to limit the starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, corn, squash, and peas) to 3-4 times per week. Raw vegetable salads and soups are another great source and can be consumed daily.

It is best to practice balance and moderation of grains and fruits. It is best to limit grains to 1-2 times per day maximum. If you are trying to lose weight, even less than that is appropriate. The best grains are: sprouted grain bread: such as “Ezekiel”; whole grain breads/crackers; whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, wild rice; and brown rice pasta. Fruits should be limited so that fructose consumption is less than 25 grams per day.

When using sweeteners it is best to stick with the following: Stevia (a natural sweetener); raw honey; and pure maple syrup.

The carbohydrates to avoid as best as possible (hopefully there is nothing surprising in this list!): refined/white flour; refined/white grains; cookies, cakes, pastries; white sugar, brown sugar, all sweeteners not listed above; processed refined grain cold and hot cereals; and all artificial sweeteners.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at, call (262) 389-9907 or go to