How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
The available information on carbs can be confusing to navigate through. So how many carbs should we really be eating? Find out expert recommendations here!
"Carbs" have become quite the topic of conversation in the health world. And the available information can be confusing to navigate through, especially with the popularization of the ketogenic diet. Besides, carbs tend to be the blame for weight gain.
However, some carbs are known to be nutrient-dense with beneficial plant compounds such as fiber. What's more, high-fiber diets show to maintain a healthy weight and protect from a number of health conditions.
With such confusion, how many carbs should we really be eating? Find out expert recommendations on just how many carbs you need to be healthy and achieve a normal weight.
Daily Carb Intake Statistics
First and foremost, daily carbohydrate intake recommendations are not a one-size-fits-all. This is just as calorie needs vary between individuals and their nutritional needs.
There are many factors that can affect the amount of carbohydrates needed each day, including age, activity levels, diabetes, and pregnancy:
• Age: The muscles and brain are excellent at burning carbohydrates in the form of glucose. As the body ages, though, it typically loses lean body mass, including muscle tissue and vital organs.
So when losing muscle with age, the body does burn through carbohydrates as well as when we are younger. This is one of the reasons we most likely need fewer carbohydrates as we age.
• Activity Level: Activity level impacts calorie needs, in turn dictating daily carb content. A sedentary individual not only requires less calories than an active person, but fewer carbs.
Strength trainers and endurance athletes often require significantly more carbohydrate compared to the average population to perform optimally.
• Diabetes: Out of three macronutrients, carbohydrate is the one that impacts blood glucose or sugar levels. If diagnosed with diabetes, monitoring carb intake is key for managing blood sugar levels.
In addition to regularly measuring blood glucose, a doctor can perform a Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test. HbA1c measures the amount of glucose present on red blood cells over a 3-month course. If HbA1c is high, it could be an indicator that you are consuming too many carbohydrates.
• Pregnancy: It is important for expecting women to meet nutritional needs to support a healthy pregnancy. Calorie and carb needs also vary based on trimester.
However, some women experience gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy. This may require limiting carbohydrate intake to 40 percent to 50 percent of daily calories according to UCSF Health.
Despite the various factors, the USDA's Dietary Guidelines recommends carbs provide 45 to 65 percent of total daily calorie needs. But what does 45 to 65 percent of calories coming from carbohydrates actually look like?
Start by identifying daily calorie needs, or for educational purposes, a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Forty-five to 65 percent of 2,000 calories equates to 900 to 1,300 calories coming from carbohydrate. Then divide each calorie range by 4, since carbs provide 4 calories per gram. This ultimately comes out to 225 to 325 grams of carb daily. The grams of carb would then by divided throughout meals and snacks accordingly.
Again, though, carb content varies based on calorie needs. A lower carb diet may likewise offer more health benefits in regard to weight loss and metabolic health.
How Many Carbs In a Low Carb Diet?
A low-carb diet has fairly loose guidelines and can vary based on restrictiveness. However, a low-carb diet generally limits carbs to no more than 20 percent of total calorie needs. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, this equates to a max of 100 grams of carb daily.
Low-carb diets naturally reduces calorie content. However, lowering carb intake helps clear insulin from the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone released in response to carb intake for energy use. But it can also store that energy as fat, thus leading to weight gain.
That being said, following a low-carb diet has implications for weight maintenance. A low glycemic diet also lowers the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Some do, however, find success dramatically restricting carb on a ketogenic diet.
However, following a low-carb diet may not be beneficial to those living a highly active lifestyle.
Exercise & Eating Too Many Carbs
Higher activity levels often demand higher carb intake. There are additional differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercises regarding energy use.
During the initial 20 minutes, the body utilizes carbohydrate and its body stores (known as glycogen) as its primary fuel source. After 20 minutes of constant movement, the body starts to burn body fat to power the muscles and body. This is known as "aerobic fat-burning."
On the other hand, anaerobic exercises rely on energy breakdown from muscle stores rather than oxygen supply during aerobic activity. Overall, though, exercise will allow most individuals to consume more carbohydrates than if not exercising in order to maintain weight.
However, it is possible to overeat on carbs with exercise. This is often related to both psychological and physiological responses. Think about it: You just worked out hard and your body needs to take in those extra calories it lost, right? Well, to an extent.
But really, do not overcompensate on calories and view food as a reward from the tough workout. Doing so can essentially unwind the efforts put forth into the gym, especially if noshing on high-sugar and fat foods.
Physiologically, too, the body often becomes hungry within an hour post-workout. This hunger pang is mostly caused by drops in glucose and glycogen stores as the body uses it for energy. Additionally, low blood sugars may cause ghrelin to surge, which is a hormone responsible for stimulating and controlling hunger.
However, there are tips to ensure adequate carb intake without derailing efforts in the gym. Non-gym goers can also make sure they are consuming the right carbs to optimize overall health.
Ensuring Adequate Carb Intake
First and foremost, consult with a dietitian or physician to help determine the amount of carbs of needed. They will help factor in age, activity level, disease states, goals, etc.
However, all can benefit from focusing on wholesome carb sources over refined products. Besides, diets rich in carbohydrate and sugar are linked to cholesterol, including increased triglyceride levels in the bloodstream.
High-sugar diets can also reduce HDL cholesterol, which is known as that "good" cholesterol in the body. This puts individuals consuming too many carbohydrates at a greater risk for the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
When it comes to a balanced carbohydrate diet, it limits empty calories from simple carbs, refined grains, and added sugars. Instead, it embraces nutrient-dense and fiber-rich carbohydrate sources. Healthy carbs include:
• Whole grains and associated products: wheat, oats, rice, quinoa, millet, rye, barley along with whole-grain breads, cereals and flours
• Beans and legumes: lentils, soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas, beans including black, kidney and pinto
• Fiber-rich fruits: bananas, oranges, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and fruits with the skin such as apples and pears
• Starchy vegetables: carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, corn, squash, and zucchini
• Fiber-rich vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, onions, brussels sprouts, peppers, tomatoes and green, leafy veggies such as kale, spinach and lettuce
• Dairy products: milk, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, and yogurt
• Nuts and seeds: almonds, pecans, and pumpkin seeds
One can ensure adequate carb and nutrients by constructing a balanced meal plate. Start by filling half of the plate with non-starchy veggies, including salad greens, broccoli, or asparagus. Designate a quarter for a lean protein and the other quarter for a complex carb or starch. Complement with a healthy fat source and add dairy and fruit as desired.
Trusting in a weight loss meal delivery service can also ensure the right balance of carbs are being met. What's more, all meal plans are designed by a team of dietitians and created by seasoned chefs. So not only are meals balanced with healthy carb, protein, and fat to help you lose weight, but taste great!