The Carb Taboo

With summer approaching, diets and weight-loss guides are beginning to peak in popularity yet again. As people are becoming more concerned with their “swimsuit bodies”, they are also starting to become more concerned with what’s on their plate, often focusing on eliminating one macronutrient in particular: carbohydrates.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (or carbs) are macronutrients that supply the body with glucose. While we typically think of carbs as breads, pastas, and sugars, the food group also contains legumes, quinoa, fruit and even fruits and vegetables. Carbs are actually present in the majority of foods we eat!

But if the majority of the foods we eat contain carbs, why are dieters so eager to get rid of them? One reason is because, once broken down, carbs are turned into glucose, a form of sugar. Since sugar has a reputation of being “unhealthy” (which we will debunk shortly) people feel the need to steer clear of anything containing it. Along with that, certain diets such as the Atkins Diet and the South Beach diet drastically changed the way we look at carbs. These diets, centered around removing carbs completely from your diet, and also labeled certain carbohydrates into “good” and “bad”. By deeming some as unhealthy, it seemed to give the entire macronutrient a bad name, similarly to how the popularity of protein was heightened once the same diets promoted protein for healthy living. Unfortunately, this stigma has stayed connected to carbohydrates throughout the years, which is why many chose to eliminate them when they diet.

How do they work?

It’s important to understand how carbohydrates work within the body. Once consumed, carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is the sugar your body uses for energy. This energy can help you run, focus better while studying, and live your healthy day-to-day life. Once these sugars are broken down, they enter your bloodstream.

The two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex, differ by how easily they can be broken down. Simple carbs (e.g. processed grains, sodas, candy and fruit) are broken down easier and faster in the body. As a result, the sugar from the glucose enters into the bloodstream faster, creating a spike in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to break down, so the sugar is slowly released into the bloodstream instead of all at once.

Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates

Simple carbs are almost always the first to go when it comes to a diet, but that’s not necessarily the best for your body. Since simple carbohydrates are so easy to break down, it can cause a spike in blood sugar, resulting in a crash later on if that’s the only food you have consumed. Also, there have been reports that the high glucose levels resulting from the easily broken down carbs can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. However, foods that contain simple carbs can be eaten in moderation, or with other foods that will give more sustainable energy; this will allow for a balance with the high glucose levels and hopefully not cause a crash or premature hunger later.

The body takes longer to break down foods that contain complex carbohydrates. These foods, most commonly whole grains, allow for more sustainable energy since the sugar is released into the bloodstream slower. Foods containing complex carbohydrates also contain more protein, fiber, and vitamins for your body. These are the more important forms of carbohydrates when it comes to your health, because the foods that contain them include necessary nutrients for your body to remain strong and functioning.

Some carbohydrates (e.g. whole fruits, brown rice, vegetables and beans) contain fiber, which helps the passage of sugar within the body, to assist in keeping hunger and blood pressure regular. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and nutrients necessary for your body, such as folate (folic acid which helps to form red blood cells) and Vitamin C (which helps to heal the body and aid in iron absorption).

How to eat carbs

Perhaps the most difficult part to breaking down when to eat what is understanding which foods contain complex carbohydrates and which foods contain simple carbohydrates. Luckily, there is a scale that ranges foods to help people be more aware of what types of carbohydrates they are consuming. Failing to eat enough carbohydrates can actually lead to malnutrition, so it’s more necessary to eat them than to not. A diet lacking in carbs will also leave you tired and prevent you from building muscle.

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not bad for your body. It is more important to eat carbohydrates than it is to attempt a risky diet that eliminates necessary nutrients for your body. The best thing to do if you are concerned about your carbohydrate intake is to pay attention to what types of carbohydrates you are eating and what kind of nutrients the foods you consume contain. In doing so, you will be able to eat in moderation and with your personal health and well-being in mind.

Aurora Finley is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in English. Along with blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is the upcoming Sexperts Director for the 2017-18 academic year. She is also an active member of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force and a regular volunteer for UCLA’s Habitat for Humanity chapter.


The De Neve Flex Bar: Shifting from Animal-based to Plant-based Protein

The De Neve Flex Bar is at the forefront of the UCLA Dining Services’ new initiative of moving from animal to plant-based proteins. The triangle-shaped Flex Bar at De Neve Dining commons opened at the beginning of UCLA’s academic winter quarter in 2017 and its popularity has continuously grown. Peter Angelis, Assistant Vice Chancellor of UCLA Housing & Hospitality Center, came up with this idea about a year ago and with the help of Al Ferrone, Senior Director of UCLA Food and Beverage, and the rest of the Healthy Campus Initiative Team, the project has been implemented and has already seen much success. All of the dishes, over 12 different salads in total, have plant-based proteins as the main ingredient with animal-based proteins as the “condiment.”

The De Neve Flex Bar. Photo by Phillip Cox.

De Neve dining commons has long been thought of as the “classic dining hall,” serving American foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza every day of the week. The goal of the Flex Bar as Dr. Cowgill, of the Department of Health Policy and Management, says is to “ultimately make the healthy option the default option.” Having tried the new Flex Bar at De Neve a few weeks ago, I found all the different salads delicious and refreshing, and was left wanting more! Just reading the names peaked my interest: “Charred Cruciferous Salad with Cotija & Almonds,” or “Ecuadorian Chicken & Vegetable Pasta Salad,” or “Kale, Spicy Lentil, Quinoa, Date & Almond Salad.” I found myself getting full from many of these different salads and not having to go for that extra slice of pizza or that unneeded hamburger.

Some of the salads offered at the De Neve Flex Bar. Photo by Philip Cox.

It is these salads that I would normally find myself ordering at a nice restaurant out in Los Angeles, but to think that I could just get it on campus in a dining hall really attests to why UCLA has some of the best college dining hall foods in the United States.


UCLA Dining is not just simply providing food for hungry students, they are constantly looking for ways to implement healthier foods that students actually like. For example, Mr. Ferrone mentioned how a significant portion of the high salt and high sodium content in De Neve was removed without sacrificing taste or interest from the student’s perspective. However, like any scientific experiment, we need evidence to prove whether these types of changes in UCLA Dining are having an impact. Through UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative’s Research Well Pod, Dr. May Wang of the Department of Community Health Sciences, Dr. Burt Cowgill, and many graduate students are the hidden data detectives of this initiative, helping us discover whether the Flex Bar is having an impact. With their help, we will soon be able to tell if this idea is generally changing student’s protein consumption from animal-based to plant-based foods in De Neve.

Categorizing De Neve’s dining menu into meat and plant based-proteins was a necessary first step to allow them to analyze changing consumption. An initial survey of almost 500 students, using a food questionnaire designed by public health graduate students, was then issued to gather information on a variety of different student consumption patterns, including how students were consuming protein and specifically how much came from animals versus plants. Dr. Wang and a few graduate students were also able to recruit excited undergraduate students to assist with gathering additional data using a 3-day food diary to validate the food questionnaire. This aspect of the study adds rigor to the research methods used to gain insights into protein consumption patterns among students.

After a few months of the Flex Bar being implemented, the goal is to collect a follow up survey that will allow them to compare their baseline survey and food study data. The hope from this initiative is to see an increase in the acceptability factor (i.e. popularity) and ‘take rate’ of Flex Bar salads. Looking at the purchasing/consumption in 2016 and comparing it to 2017 patterns, the expectation is to see a shift in the purchasing patterns from animal-based to more plant-based proteins like legumes, quinoa, and broccoli for example. Who knows, maybe this type of salad bar will eventually be implemented in the other dining halls!

Mr. Ferrone mentions that the idea of a triangular salad bar is important because “it never ends” and ideally “students will fill their plates and won’t need to get other food.” (I can personally confirm this). It is this never ending salad bar that reminds me of our continual and everlasting pursuit towards healthier eating. There is always something that we can do to make our lifestyles healthier and I think the first step that we all can take is to go try the new Flex Bar at De Neve dining hall.

Phillip Cox is a 4th year Bioengineering major and blogger for the Eat Well Pod within the Healthy Campus Initiative.