Understanding Refined Carbohydrates
Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Jan 21Nutrition

Understanding Refined Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates or carbs are starches and sugars which our body requires to make energy. We need this energy for our body to function effectively. In other words, it is the daily fuel for our body.

Carbohydrates can be categorised into two types:


Why are refined carbs bad?

Simple carbs or refined carbs have almost no nutritional value. They are greatly processed and lose their fibre and nutrients that are necessary for our body. Since they can be easily absorbed in our body and get instant energy from them, it creates an insulin spike in our body. With an insulin spike, more fat will get accumulated in the body. Overconsumption of refined foods can be one of the leading causes of various lifestyle diseases like:

  • Heart diseases
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Acne
  • Hypertension
  • PCOS
  • PCOD
  • Asthma
  • Low immunity

Why do we crave refined carbohydrates?

There are many reasons why we crave refined carbohydrates.

  • It is an undeniable fact that refined foods taste good. Pizzas, burgers, pastries, chips, and other such foods satisfy our taste buds, but certainly not our body’s needs.

  • If you do not consume enough fibre, whole food or protein in your diet or if you have certain nutrient deficiencies, your sugar levels can drop low frequently. It will automatically increase your cravings for sugar or anything that gives you instant energy.

  • If you are not eating your meals on time or, if you are not fulfilling your daily food requirements, your sugar levels will drop low, eventually leading to sugar cravings.

  • When you eat refined carbs, your insulin levels spike up, but they drop down equally fast. It gives you energy for a short period. Soon, you will crave for sugar once again and as a result, consume refined carbs. In this way, the cycle continues; you keep craving for unhealthy, refined carbs.

  • Refined foods are cooked instantly without spending too much time, making them the most sought after foods. They are also available everywhere.

  • Refined foods are not only tasty but also comfort foods. The part of your brain responsible for your happiness and comfort gets activated when you eat these foods. Hence, they are addictive and you keep wanting for more.

When we crave sugar, we opt for all the options that are readily available to us.

On emotional eating

If someone has anxiety or the habit of emotional eating, they crave for sugary foods which can comfort them instantly. But after eating, they may regret that and to cope with that, will again eat something sweet to make themselves feel better. Thus, they find it hard to control themselves. With the help of a counsellor, they should address their anxiety and other psychological issues and take care of their emotional eating habits.


Should you never consume refined carbs?

Ideally, yes, it is better not to consume refined carbs. However, considering our lifestyles, it is impossible to stop eating refined carbs. We socialise, eat in restaurants and eat sweets, desserts during parties and festivals all around the year. However, it is crucial to track the number of refined carbs that we consume. We must balance those carbs with a good source of protein and fibre to maintain our sugar levels.

Tip: If you are preparing yourself a pack of instant noodles or a pizza or a sandwich, add enough fibre like fresh vegetables and protein like eggs in your preparation. It will ensure that there is no sudden spike in the insulin levels.

So, who needs refined carbs?

Athletes or anybody who does the physical activity for prolonged periods require a lot of energy. Long-distance runners, long-distance swimmers, sports persons or people who work out for more than 90 minutes will need some amount of refined carbs or sugar to continue their rigorous activities. Refined carbs being instant sources of energy help in maintaining their energy levels. It ensures that they do not get dehydrated, do not faint or get cramps.

Different foods are available to cater to their needs - sports drinks, sports gel, fruits and homemade sports drinks. These drinks contain refined sugars so that they can instantly get absorbed in their body.

Tip: If you are not performing that much physical activity daily, you do not require a lot of refined carbs. In that case, it is better to avoid it whenever you can.

Bottom Line

By now, you must have understood that refined carbs are unhealthy, so your body does not need them. Regular consumption of refined foods can lead to many diseases as you age. Eat wholesome meals on time and cut down snacking on junk food in between meals to maintain your health and prevent yourself from lifelong diseases.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.