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Why does the body need carbohydrates?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source, especially for the brain. The body can rely on protein and fat for a period of time, but acid called “ketones” will eventually build up in the body and affect the brain. Not only are carbohydrates used as fuel, but they are components of the cells that make up our body too. Additionally, carbohydrates are needed for millions of cellular reactions going on in the body at all times. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and dairy.

Elizabeth Casparro, MPH,RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

The two main functions of carbohydrates in the body are to provide energy for all cells and spare the use of protein from the muscles and organs. When deprived of carbohydrates, our bodies can survive off of protein and fat, but only for a limited time. When we turn fat and protein into energy (a process called ketosis), we produce ketones (acidic compounds) that raises our blood acidity. If continued, being in this state called ketosis/ketoacidosis, can eventually lead to death.

Dr. Vonda Wright, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
Contrary to popular diets, carbohydrates (carbs) are not the enemy. The cells of your body use circulating glucose to make energy at rest and during exercise. Not only do your cells need carbohydrates but your brain is entirely dependent on carbs for energy. Carbs help maintain blood glucose during exercise and restore muscle glycogen during rest and recovery from exercise.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.