When thinking of carbohydrates, many of us tend to conjure feelings of increased energy levels—at least for the short-term—which is why we love to reach for a big handful of crackers or something sweet when that 2 p.m. slump starts to rear its head. (It’s effective.)
Brierley Horton, MS, RD, co-host of the Happy Eating Podcast, says that whenever we eat carbs, our bodies break them down into glucose. This addition of glucose into the bloodstream creates a burst of energy, as Horton explains that glucose fuels the cells in our bodies. “Plus, it’s the brain’s preferred energy source,” she adds. However, Horton notes that the “type” of boost you may experience is dependent on the source of carbohydrate you’re reaching for.
“The type of carbs you eat may influence how you feel,” says Horton. “For instance, a spoonful of sugar or a very refined white carbohydrate, like ultra-processed white bread or chips, will get into your bloodstream pretty quickly, which then causes your pancreas to release more insulin. Insulin is how your body ‘uses’ glucose for energy; without it, you wouldn’t be able to get glucose into the cells of your body that need it. The quick spike in insulin then brings down your blood sugar quickly, which can cause you to ‘crash’ or feel a bit sluggish.”
That said, Horton says that if you’re opting for those more well-rounded complex carbohydrates that also come packaged with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and possibly even a bit of protein (think: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes), these other nutrients will slow down the blood sugar spike, creating more steady energy levels