Top Reasons to Avoid Refined Carbohydrates

Science by HLTH Code Team

Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three macronutrients that give the body the energy and nutrients it requires to function properly. For decades, the prevailing wisdom of the day was that carbohydrates were the most essential of the macros, but this wisdom has been turned on its head in recent years. Research indicates that carbs are not essential for most populations and, indeed, that there is “no essential carbohydrate,” because the body can produce the glucose needed for cellular function and because the brain loves ketones. [1,2]” 

While protein and fat are, in fact, essential for human life, not everyone wants to eat a diet entirely devoid of carbohydrates. Even carb-restricted diets like ketogenic and low carbohydrate diets allow for some carbohydrates (typically 50 g for keto and up to 130 for low carb). What successful practitioners of both of these diets know, though, is that it isn’t only the number of grams of carbs that you eat that matters; it’s the quality of those carbs. 

There are a few different ways to classify the differences in carbohydrates. Some people find it helpful to look at complex vs simple carbs and prioritize those complex carbs that digest more slowly and contain fiber and nutrients that simple carbs lack. Others look within those complex carbs to see how the starch is digested, focusing on resistant and slow starches over rapidly digested starches. Still others simplify the process and look at whole, natural carbs versus refined/processed ones. 

Each of these methods has a similar theme: eating carbohydrates in their most natural state is best for you.

Research overwhelmingly backs this up.

Eating a carbohydrate in its most natural state by necessity means minimal to no refinement. Refined carbohydrates undergo processing to remove the bran and germ portions of the grain, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This processing removes fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the grains, resulting in a product with a finer texture and longer shelf life. Common sources of refined carbohydrates include white flour, rice, and pasta, packaged snacks and cereals, and sugary foods and beverages.

Let’s look at the top reasons to limit (or eliminate) refined carbs from your diet:

  1. Weight Management:
  2. Blood Sugar Control:
    • Sugar and processed carbs cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by crashes. This can contribute to feelings of fatigue, irritability, and increased hunger, potentially leading to overeating and weight gain.
  3. Insulin Sensitivity and Diabetes Risk:
    • A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can contribute to insulin resistance, a condition where the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin. This is a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes [4].

  4. Cardiovascular Health:
    • High sugar and processed carbohydrate intake have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. These foods can contribute to elevated levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart disease [5].
  5. Mental Health:
    • Consuming excessive sugar and processed carbs can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, resulting in energy crashes and mood swings. The mechanisms required for the body to reduce blood glucose levels are associated with mood and mental health disorders [6].
  6. Dental Health:
    • Sugary foods and drinks are a major contributor to tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars, producing acids that can erode tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
  7. Nutrient Deficiency:
    • Diets high in sugar and processed carbs generally lack essential nutrients. When these foods displace nutrient-dense options, it can contribute to deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and other important micronutrients.
  8. Increased Risk of Metabolic Syndrome:
    • A diet rich in sugar and processed carbohydrates has been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that include abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal lipid levels [7].
  9. Inflammation:
    • Excessive consumption of sugar and processed carbs may contribute to chronic inflammation in the body, which is linked to various health conditions, including inflammatory diseases, autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers [8,9].
  10. Addictive Properties:
    • Sugar has been shown to have addictive properties, leading to cravings and overconsumption [10]. This can create a cycle of dependency on sugary foods, making it challenging to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.

If you want to be healthier, there’s no question that a diet rich in protein and healthy fats is the best way to accomplish that. But whole, unrefined carbohydrates can play a part in a quality diet. 

Whether you intend to cut carbs or to focus on carb quality, however, one thing is clear: reducing the intake of added sugars and highly processed carbohydrates can contribute to better weight management, improved metabolic and mental health, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.



This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.