In recent years, carbohydrates have garnered a bad rep and are often associated with weight gain, hence the fad with low-carb diets.

However, what’s the correlation, if any, between carbs and your heart health? Can pasta, rice, and bread negatively impact your cardiovascular function?

Types of Carbohydrates

It’s important to note that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Carbs can be categorized into two types: simple and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

The body absorbs simple carbs quickly, and the body immediately sends glucose into the bloodstream for a quick burst of energy. However, this is followed by a quick crash.

Many simple carbs found in food today consist of refined sugar and flour that provide little to no nutrients. This includes heavily processed goods like soda, white bread, and breakfast cereal.

Other simple-carb-based foods like fruits, on the other hand, are chockful of vitamins and minerals.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are released into the bloodstream much more gradually than simple carbs, giving you a steady and sustained release.

This carb form can be really healthy if you aim for unrefined varieties like whole grains, oatmeal, and legumes.

Relationship Between Carbs and Heart Health

Simple carbs can negatively impact heart health in a number of ways. Excess simple carb consumption has been linked to chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

One study concluded that consuming seven or more servings of refined carbs per day increased heart disease risk by 33%, stroke by 47%, and early death by 27%.

Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 12 separate studies revealed that subjects that consumed a diet high in refined carbs had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.

Carbohydrates Can Also Be Good for Your Heart

Complex and unrefined carbohydrates, by contrast, contain nutrients and fiber that contribute to heart health.

One study found that increased intake of whole grains was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

What Makes Complex Carbs Heart-healthy?

Depending on the source, complex carbs may be rich in vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes, for example, are high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects your body against oxidative damage. It’s also high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.

Similarly, another complex carb source, like quinoa, is an excellent source of minerals like copper, iron, and manganese.

Complex carb sources also tend to be high in dietary fiber. Aside from aiding in digestion, fiber also assists in heart function.

A study mentioned in Harvard Health Publishing suggests that a fiber-rich diet may reduce heart disease risk by as much as 30%.

What about Fruits?

Fruits contain natural sugars and fall in the simple carbohydrates category. Does this mean fruits are bad and we should avoid them? Not at all.

Fruits contain a mix of fructose and glucose. The former is also found in many artificially-sweetened foods, albeit in highly processed forms.

Fructose is only harmful if consumed in excess amounts, far more than what you normally get from fruits alone.

In addition, with their high nutritional and antioxidant profile, it’s all the more reason to make fruit a mainstay in your diet.

The Takeaway

  • Refined simple carbs can elevate heart disease risk; consume them in moderation
  • Consume more complex carbs from natural sources
  • Fruit is an exception to simple carbs that you can and should consume more of

As you can see, carbs come from diverse sources, some of which are heart-healthy, others not so much. Heart health is a combination of dietary choices, lifestyle, and regular doctor visits.

Read also: When Should I Visit a Cardiologist?

For an overall assessment of your cardio health, schedule an appointment with Dr. Corwin A. Thomas, a cardiologist near you in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Thomas has been providing top-notch quality care in the Acadiana area for over two decades.

Schedule an appointment today