What Are Carbohydrates? Definition, Functions, Types, and Examples

Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found in foods and drinks. There are three different carbohydrate types, which include sugars, starches, and fiber.

Carbs are sugar molecules that the body turns into glucose, later used to provide energy and keep the body functioning. Consuming healthy carbohydrates are essential not only to provide energy but for the body’s cells and tissues too.

Foods high in carbs include grains, sweets, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn. The real benefit of foods with carbs is the energy you can gain for your body when the carb foods are broken down into glucose.

Eating too many foods high in carbs, such as sweet cakes or cookies, creates insulin resistance in the body and leads to health risks such as diabetes or sharp rises in your blood sugars. Yet, there are healthy carbs for weight loss, like the ones rich in fiber (quinoa, oat) which help the body lose weight.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are sugar molecules responsible for producing glucose in the human body. The human body uses glucose to create energy. Glucose comes from sugars, fiber, and starches, which are the three types of carbs. 

What Are Carbohydrates
What Are Carbohydrates?

While carbs are an essential nutrient for the human body, not all sources of carbohydrates have the same reputation. Whole grains are a better source of carbohydrates, including whole wheat bread, brown rice, barley, rye, quinoa, and buckwheat. Conversely, the more unhealthy foods with carbs include cake, white bread, and French fries.  

What Do Carbohydrates Do in Our Body?

Carbohydrates break down into glucose molecules in the human body. Then, carbs provide a form of energy for the body. 

The function of carbohydrates involves helping the human body work better as an energy source. If you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet, your body will use proteins and fats as energy sources.

Since protein is essential for many other needs in the human body, carbohydrates are the preferred energy source. Once carbs become glucose, the glucose moves from the bloodstream to the tissues once insulin helps it transition. The human brain also needs glucose to function well.

Are Carbohydrates Important in Our Body?

Consuming foods rich in carbohydrates is crucial for the body. Carbs help maintain a balanced and nutritious diet. This is because carbohydrates are responsible for providing the body with glucose, a type of sugar utilized by the body to produce energy. The body then utilizes this energy to facilitate its various functions and activities.

What Are the Different Types of Carbohydrates?

The different types of carbohydrates are listed below.

  • Fiber
  • Sugars
  • Starches

Fiber is a more complex carbohydrate and will make you feel fuller. Since it’s harder to break down, fiber keeps you from overeating and feeling full. 

Sugars are simple carbohydrates in items like candy, cake, soft drinks, other desserts or baked goods, and processed foods. Starches are complex carbohydrates you can find in bread, pasta, potatoes, and cereal.

1. Fiber

What carbs are good for weight loss? You’ll find that diets high in fiber have numerous health benefits and may even help you lose weight. That’s because it is a complex carbohydrate that takes longer to break down. 

It will help you stay full instead of crashing from simple sugars. It will also add bulk to your body and help you control your weight. Most importantly, fiber is among the best carbs for losing weight. 

You’re less likely to have intestinal problems if you have a diet high in fiber. You’ll have less constipation and better digestion with a fiber-rich diet. Further, fiber can reduce cholesterol and the number of sugars moving throughout your bloodstream. To improve your diet, add fiber-rich foods like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. 

2. Sugars

If you’ve heard that carbohydrate foods are not good for you, then you’re probably thinking about simple sugars. Carbs and weight loss probably don’t go hand in hand if you’re consuming too much cake, pastries, ice cream, or donuts.

Healthy carbs for weight loss are usually not found in simple sugars. Yet, even some fruits have a small number of simple sugars, so you don’t necessarily need to cut out all sugars when you’re searching for good carbs to eat.

3. Starches

What are healthy carbs? Generally, fiber is the best choice, but you’ll also need a starch if you’re planning to exercise or spend plenty of time hiking, running, or swimming. Starches are found in potatoes, pasta, rice, and cereals. These foods help you keep moving and gain energy on a busy, physically active day.

While the best carbs for weight loss are usually fiber, starches also play an important role in enabling you to exercise and lose weight. 

How to Incorporate Carbohydrates Foods in Diet?

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that helps the production of energy. Follow the outline below to incorporate the healthiest carbs in your diet, whether it be for weight loss, weight gain, or maintaining weight.

  • Add fiber-rich foods like apples, whole-grain bread, and nuts or seeds
  • Include the best carbs for weight loss, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Add grains (bread, pasta), potatoes, rice, beans and lentils (kidney beans), dairy products (milk), fruits (bananas), and vegetables (potatoes) to your daily meals
  • Pick low-fat dairy products
How to Incorporate Carbohydrates Foods in Diet
How to Incorporate Carbohydrates Foods in Diet?

The best way to incorporate carbohydrates into your diet is by choosing whole grains and other foods containing them. These foods contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help keep you healthy and full.

The most important step is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Vegetables and fruits provide much-needed vitamins, minerals, and fiber that can help keep you healthy while also helping you feel fuller longer.

After you incorporate fruit and vegetables into your diet, you can begin to Include whole grains. Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that contain fiber, which helps slow down your digestion and keeps you feeling full longer. Examples include brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa.

Once whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are constantly in your diet, add pasta to the mix. Choose pasta made from whole wheat flour, pasta made with beans instead of white flour, or white pasta made from refined wheat flour for a healthier approach.

Finally, after you create a diet with healthy carbs, you can add low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt or cheese, instead of full-fat dairy products. These products contain less saturated fat than full-fat dairy products. 

What Are the Best Carbohydrates Foods to Eat for Weight Loss?

The best carbohydrates for weight loss are whole-grain bread, grains, fruits, low-fat dairy, and legumes.

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Cereals, pasta, rice, and other grains
  • Fruits
  • milk and yogurt
  • Beans and legumes
  • Other dairy products like low-fat cheese

Carbohydrates are found in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet. They provide energy for your body and brain to function properly. 

What carbs are good for weight loss? If you replace some high-carb foods with low-carb choices you can effectively cut calories while maintaining nutritional balance. 

What Are Examples of Carbohydrates Foods to Avoid for Weight Loss?

The type of carbohydrate-rich foods to avoid for weight loss are outlined in the list below.

  • Sugary foods
  • Starchy vegetables 
  • Beer
  • White bread
  • Milk and dairy products high in fat

Carbohydrates are found in many common meals like carrots and bread, for example. Many people consume them without knowing their effects, leading to weight gain or other health problems. In addition to being high in calories, some types of carbohydrates can cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels that may lead to hunger cravings later on. 

1. Sugary Foods

Sugar is a carbohydrate that comes from plants, such as sugar cane or sugar beets. The most common type of sugar is sucrose, which is made up of glucose and fructose molecules bonded together. 

Sugar is one of the worst types of carbohydrates because it is highly processed and causes a spike in blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels rise, your body releases insulin to bring them back down again. This process causes you to feel hungry shortly after eating sugary foods and may lead to overeating later in the day. 

Eating too much sugar is also linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes because it increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Sugary foods include cakes, pastries, ice cream, donuts, brownies, and other high-sugar foods. These foods can cause weight gain and make you feel sluggish.

2. Starchy Vegetables

Starch, also known as amylum, is a carbohydrate commonly produced by green plants. Plants use it to store energy, just as humans do. Starch is the carb most commonly found in human diets, given a lot of staple foods have it.

Starchy vegetables, including potatoes, corn, and peas, will not help you lose weight because starch contains a lot of empty calories and almost no nutritional properties. You must avoid consuming too many starchy vegetables in your daily meals if you’re looking to lose weight.

The most popular types of starchy vegetables to avoid include corn, white potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, beets, green peas, butternut squash, and turnips. However, if you eat mashed potatoes, for example, you can burn off those calories by pursuing aerobic exercises and strength-training workouts.

3. Beer

The reason beer is high in carbohydrates is the fermentation process, which is necessary to create it. Beer is made from fermented cereals like wheat, and rice, which are high in starch.

While all beers vary in their carbs intake, they are unhealthy to consume in large quantities, as they are high in calories and carbohydrates. Beer is not something to add to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. 

In addition, drinking alcohol makes you more uninhibited, which makes it harder to stick to a healthy diet in carbs.

4. Bread

Bread is a carbohydrate-rich meal. It’s normally made of refined wheat, which contains starch. Bread is also low in protein and fiber.

Avoid white bread and other simple grains if you want to lose weight. Instead, consume a diet high in whole grains, such as whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread.

If you consume an excess of bread, you will gain more weight. Therefore, even if you like whole wheat or whole grain bread, you’ll want to limit yourself to only a few pieces daily. 

5. Milk

Milk uses lactose as one of its main components. Lactose is a natural sugar and provides very few nutrients.

When trying to lose weight, you should consider limiting the amount of milk you consume. Of course, you should not necessarily take milk out of the equation completely, but you should stick to 1 percent or skim milk. 

Cow’s milk and goat milk are examples of milk that’s too high in carbohydrates and calories, making them less than ideal. To lose weight, pick your milk choices carefully and stick to low-fat options.

What Type of Diet Allows You to Eat High Carbohydrate Foods?

Carb intake varies based on individual factors, but experts suggest consuming 40-50% of daily calories from complex carbs like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains for weight control. No matter the diet type you follow, carbs high in added sugars should always be limited.

The Mediterranean, DASH, and Flexitarian diets all emphasize plant-based foods, lean protein, and whole grains, which can aid in weight loss, and allow you to eat carbohydrate foods.

How Many Carbs a Day Can You Eat and Still Lose Weight?

Experts believe you should eat no more than 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates per day to lose weight safely.

Low-carb diets often prove to be effective for weight loss. Most people should consume 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates daily. 

Eating starchy vegetables in moderation can help support a low-carb diet. Examples of starchy fruits include bananas, plantains, and dates.

Does a Low-Carb Diet Allow You to Eat Carbs?

Yes, you can eat a certain amount of carbs in a low-carb diet. In a low-carb diet, grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits, which are sources of carbohydrates, are restricted. The quantity of carbohydrates allowed in a low-carb diet depends on its type. A strict low-carb diet, often called a keto or ketogenic diet, typically contains less than 20 grams of net carbs per day.

Low-carb diets can be safe, but speaking to a healthcare provider before starting one is important. Eating a low-carb diet can potentially help you with losing weight, but it is not necessarily an edge in weight loss. 

Can You Eat as Much as You Want on a Low-Carb Diet?

Eating as much as you want on a low-carb diet will depend on your diet. You can eat as much as you want on the Weight Watcher’s diet while keeping track of your points. This means you can eat a lot in quantity, but you can’t surpass the carb intake the diet asks for.

Although there are variations among different types of low-carb diets, in general, they restrict foods that are high in carbohydrates or added sugars, such as sweets, refined grains, and starches. This means that you can’t consume as many carbs as you want on a low-carb diet.

A typical low-carb diet allows fewer than 130 grams of carbs per day, but some diets may permit a moderate intake of higher-carb foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits.

Given that in most low-carb diets you can’t eat as much as you want, these diets can be difficult to sustain in the long term.

What Food Is High in Carb?

Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, contain higher numbers of carbs and calories than non-starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables contain around three or four times more carbs than non-starchy vegetables, with 11 to 23 grams of carbs in every half of a cup.

Canned fruit like apricots, peaches, mangos, pears, pineapple, and cherries, are usually accompanied by high quantities of syrup, which make up for a ton of simple sugars.

Furthermore, foods high in carbohydrates also include cookies, cake, pastries, donuts, brownies, and ice cream.

What Food Is Low in Carb?

Almost all types of meats have a zero-percent carbohydrate intake. Eggs also contain almost no carbohydrates. Eating meats like beef, lamb, pork, jerky, chicken, turkey, and even bison contain no carbohydrates. 

Just like meat, seafood, and fish are examples of food low in carbohydrates. They contain close to zero carbohydrates.

If you want to avoid meat and carbohydrates too, green vegetables like broccoli, cucumber, and bell peppers are low in carbohydrates.

With that said, you must check the label on the products you get. While natural meats don’t have carbs, they may have been processed and no longer contain low carbohydrates.

What are the Benefits of Carbohydrates in Losing Weight?

Carbohydrates can provide energy and help you lose weight when choosing fiber-rich foods. Low-carb diets may help reduce the levels of blood sugar in your system.

What are the Benefits of Carbohydrates in Losing Weight
What are the Benefits of Carbohydrates in Losing Weight?

Eating starchy carbohydrates in moderation is recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Furthermore, eating starchy vegetables provides us with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. 

In addition, complex carbohydrates promote satiety, which can help prevent overeating and reduce cravings for unhealthy foods. Healthy eating plans such as the SCD Diet exclusively target only complex carbs.

What are the Risks of Carbohydrates in Weight Loss?

If you eat too much carbohydrates or foods that are high in sugars and starches such as white bread, potato-related foods, and sugary foods like pastries, your body’s insulin levels will adjust and lead to weight gain.

Starchy vegetables contain more carbohydrates and calories than non-starchy vegetables, which can cause a spike in blood sugar. Therefore, a diet that is high in carbohydrates can also have certain health risks and may not be effective for weight loss. 

On the other hand, severely limiting carbohydrates can induce ketosis, in which fat is broken down into ketones for energy, instead of producing glucose. This can help in making you feel less hungry, and you end up eating less food.

However, this can lead to unpleasant side effects like bad breath, headaches, fatigue, and weakness.

In addition, an excessively low-carb diet can pose significant health risks, including inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals and digestive issues. 

The long-term risks of following a low-carb diet include an increased risk of heart disease or certain cancers. 

What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Carbohydrates?

If you don’t get enough carbohydrates, it may lead to fatigue and muscle weakness. This is because carbohydrates are important for providing energy and nutrients to the body.

Without carbohydrates, your body won’t be able to produce the glucose it needs to fuel your cells and tissues. Essentially, you will feel weary and lack the energy you need to get through the day. 

A lack of carbohydrates and fiber can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. 

Eating a diet low in carbohydrates can also cause health problems such as anemia, kidney stones, and constipation. You are more likely to experience digestive issues if your diet lacks the fiber found in carbohydrates.

What Happens if You Have Too Much Carbohydrates?

Eating too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. Overconsumption of carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Eating too many carbohydrates can lead to an imbalance in your diet, as complex carbohydrates should make up one-quarter of your plate.

If you eat too many simple sugars, your blood sugar levels will spike, and you will increase your risk for pre-diabetes and diabetes. It may also increase your risk of certain types of cancers.

Eating too many simple carbohydrates can diminish your energy levels quickly, as they provide a rapid source of energy. Too many carbohydrates can leave you feeling satisfied, and leave other essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals off the table.

Are Carbs Good for Losing Belly Fat?

Yes, eating starchy vegetables in moderation is beneficial for those looking to lose belly fat, especially if they have diabetes. Likewise, Low-carb diets may help someone lose weight but may not necessarily be the only factor for losing belly fat.

Consuming starchy vegetables in moderate servings (1/2-1 cup) can be suitable for those maintaining a low-carb diet. 

Is It Recommended to Not Eat Carbs to Lose Weight?

Eating fewer carbs is a popular way to lose weight and has been proven to be at least as effective as other diets. Following a low-carb diet can help with weight loss. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks. 

Long-term health risks of a low-carb diet may include a lack of vitamins and minerals, digestive issues, and a higher risk of heart disease or certain cancers if large amounts of fat and protein from animal sources are consumed.

Are Carbs Bad for Weight Loss?

Too many carbohydrates can make weight loss more difficult to attain. Replacing carbs with other food groups may be beneficial for weight loss, as carbs are more energy dense than other foods. 

Eating starchy vegetables in moderation may be suitable for people following a low-carb diet. Low-carb diets may be effective for weight loss. Starchy vegetables contain a similar amount of carbs as bread, rice, and cereals.

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Athletic Insight Research


The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.