In Depth


There is so much talk these days about high protein, low carbohydrate diets! What is the problem with carbohydrates? Are they bad for you? Well, the answer is that carbohydrates, like any food, can be bad for you when eaten excessively. Being careful to not over do the servings you eat doesn’t mean that you should avoid them completely, but instead, they should be part of your balanced diet.

Carbohydrates are found in most types of food. Fruits and vegetables, grains and dairy foods all contain carbohydrates. Usually we think of fruit, grains, breads, and root vegetables as being the major sources of carbohydrate.

Protein, fat and alcohol also may be converted by your body into carbohydrates. Your body relies on carbohydrates for energy. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body can experience “ketosis,” which is an abnormal process that can also occur during starvation. Although ketosis does speed up weight loss, long-term side effects of ketosis may include heart disease, bone loss, and kidney damage. Carbohydrates are good for your body and are necessary for proper metabolism.


  • Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, milk and vegetables, and are important sources of many vitamins, minerals, and healthy chemicals. Other sources include cake, candy and other refined sugar sources, which provide energy, but contain little vitamins, minerals and fiber. Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly and easily by the body to provide energy. Most simple carbohydrates taste sweet.

  • Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grain breads, legumes, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are also broken down into sugar by the body, but at a much slower rate than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates provide more vitamins, minerals and fiber to your body and are an important part of a healthy diet. Some complex carbohydrates are highly refined (such as bleached white flour) and contain less of the original nutritional value compared with less refined grains.


  • Complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains

  • Protein in moderation

  • Low intake of fat



  • Promise a quick fix

  • Give claims that sound too good to be true

  • Give lists of “good” and “bad” foods

  • Based their claims on studies that are not scientifically sound

  • Make recommendations to help sell a product or service

  • Suggest that food can change body chemistry

  • Blames scientific hormones for weight problems


There are several fad diets that promote a high protein, low carbohydrate eating pattern. The Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet both focus on increasing protein and decreasing carbohydrates, in varying degrees. These diets focus on the glycemic index of foods. The glycemic index is a scale that describes how your body reacts to a food. Some carbohydrates have a higher glycemic index than other foods and these fad diets portray this as “bad.” Low carbohydrate diets have been shown to promote rapid short-term weight loss, but over the long run, success rates on these diets differed very little from the success rates of people following a more traditional weight loss diet. The best road to weight loss is still a diet that contains a variety of healthy foods and plenty of physical activity.

Any diet that encourages you to ban certain food groups from your eating pattern may rob your body of essential nutrients like calcium and fiber. There are many healthy phytochemicals that are found in fruits and vegetables, and can help protect your body against cancer and heart disease. Many supporters of fad diets suggest the use of supplements to replace the nutrients lost with an extreme eating plan. The American Dietetic Association recommends that supplements be used to “bridge a gap” in healthy eating, not be used as a replacement for nutrient-rich foods.

Carbohydrates, especially complex ones, are good foods when they are part of a healthy eating plan. Simple carbohydrates that are high in refined sugars are usually high in calories and can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Instead of reaching for some candy or soda, grab a piece of fruit.