The changing roles of dietary carbohydrates: From simple to complex

Amy E. Griel, Elizabeth H. Ruder, Penny M. Kris-Etherton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The dietary recommendations made for carbohydrate intake by many organizations/agencies have changed over time. Early recommendations were based on the need to ensure dietary sufficiency and focused on meeting micronutrient intake requirements. Because carbohydrate-containing foods are a rich source of micronutrients, starches, grains, fruits, and vegetables became the foundation of dietary guidance, including the base of the US Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid. Dietary sufficiency recommendations were followed by recommendations to reduce cholesterol levels and the risk for cardiovascular disease; reduction in total fat (and hence saturated fat) predominated. Beginning in the 1970s, carbohydrates were recommended as the preferred substitute for fat by the American Heart Association and others to achieve the recommended successive reductions in total fat and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). Additional research on fats and fatty acids found that monounsaturated fatty acids could serve as an alternative substitution for saturated fats, providing equivalent lowering of LDL-C without concomitant reductions in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increases in triglycerides witnessed when carbohydrates replace saturated fat. This research led to a sharper focus in the guidelines in the 1990s toward restricting saturated fat and liberalizing a range of intake of total fat. Higher-fat diets, still low in saturated fatty acids, became alternative strategies to lower-fat diets. As the population has become increasingly overweight and obese, the emergence of the metabolic syndrome and its associated disruptions in glucose and lipid metabolism has led to reconsiderations of the role of carbohydrate-containing foods in the American diet. Consequently, a review of the evidence for and against high-carbohydrate diets is important to put this controversy into perspective. The current dietary recommendations for carbohydrate intake are supported by the evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1958-1965
Number of pages8
JournalArteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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