Confused about the number of carbs your body needs? You’re not alone. There’s a lot of information out there to wade through! How many carbs you should eat really comes down to you – your genetic individuality and all of the health factors at play.
First, it’s important to note how carbs work. Any type of carb you eat turns into glucose in the body, and the right amount fuels bodily function. Too much glucose delivered too rapidly can cause the body to become resistant to insulin and leptin, hormones that play a part in blood sugar regulation. Insulin and leptin resistance, in turn, can promote inflammation, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, brain degeneration and hormonal imbalances.
The type of food you eat determines how fast the carbs are converted to glucose in the body. For example, vegetables are typically slower to convert, while foods containing flours and sugars such as bread and processed food items break down fast and hit the bloodstream quickly. The human body was not designed to function on “foods” that are highly processed and can raise the body’s blood sugar rapidly.
Choosing the right kind of carbs
Many people are not aware of the number of carbs they consume and that it’s the quality of those carbs and how they are derived that’s important. I personally believe that we should be getting the majority of our carbs from veggies rather than grains and a lot of fruit, and I recommend consuming 6-9 cups of vegetables per day. High carb foods like grains, pasta, bread, sweets, fruit juices have a high glycemic load, meaning they turn into glucose faster and can cause a blood sugar spike. Even though eating starchy foods that are high in vitamins and minerals (such as potatoes) is more healthy than eating processed foods, it’s still possible to overdo it and cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly.
Lower glycemic foods will spread out the energy usage and reduce the likelihood of an immediate blood sugar spike. Lower glycemic foods tend to be that way because they contain higher amounts of fiber, which slows digestion. Keeping your blood sugar balanced can help to reduce systemic inflammation which is good for overall health and may improve some health conditions.
Anything leafy, green, and relatively low in carbohydrates per serving is considered a non-starchy vegetable. So, for example, lettuce, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower, onions, jicama, and raw carrots (yes, even carrots) are all non-starchy vegetables. Anything that is higher in carbohydrates and has a starchy texture is a starchy vegetable. So, for example, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, butternut/winter squash, beets, and plantains are all starchy vegetables.
Don’t be afraid to eat carbs – they are an important part of a balanced meal plan and balanced hormones, but you’ll need to customize your diet based on how active you are and your current physical state. Some people who are highly active throughout the day, naturally lean people (“hard gainers”) and pregnant or breastfeeding moms typically can consume more carbs. If none of those apply to you, but you feel better when you eat healthy carbs, there is no reason to avoid them. If you’re trying to lose weight, then cutting back on carbs may be a good starting point, and if you’re like me and have to minimize your carbs to maintain a healthy weight, non-starchy veggies are the way to go.
Here is a quick look at my thoughts on actual amounts. Please keep in mind that there are many different options out there and that it really does come down to you as a bio-individual.
150-200 High intake: Athletes and pregnant women might do better at this level.
100-150 Moderate intake: For people who are physically active or want to maintain their weight, a moderate intake per day may be optimal.
50-100 Lower carb: This is a good level to experiment with if you’re trying to lose weight.
20-50 Low/Therapeutic: for those that are insulin resistant, have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS. This may be a level to slowly work down to if you are unable to lose weight and need to heal some metabolic issues.
Reassessing your carb intake
If you’re trying to lose weight or overcome a health challenge, reducing your carb intake and lowering your body’s glucose could provide desired results. However, that doesn’t mean you have to go super low-carb overnight. If you’ve been eating 200 grams a day, drop back to 150 for a while, and then back to 100 and really listen to how your body is feeling. When you reduce your carbs, it’s really important to counter that with an increase of healthy fats. This helps your body to become fat-adaptive and start using fat as energy rather than carbs.
A hair tissue mineral analysis is another way to determine how your body is using the glucose it creates. This is shown in the ratio of calcium to magnesium (Ca/Mg), which is also called a blood sugar ratio. An imbalanced Ca/Mg ratio usually indicates excessive carbohydrates in the diet. A high or low ratio indicates a sensitivity to sugar and unstable blood sugar chemistry.
If you need to reassess your carb intake, here are some ideas.
- Make appropriate adjustments to your carb intake over time. Start with being more aware of the glycemic load and the quality of the carbs you are eating. Make slow changes and listen to your body.
- Keep a food journal and count your carbs for a short period of time. This will help you not only pay attention to how many carbs you’re eating, but it’ll also give you a space to notice whether things are trending better or worse. Record how you feel each day, even if you think symptoms are unrelated to your carb intake. This can mean moods or headaches, but also body aches, energy levels, bathroom habits, and even your appetite and food cravings. I’m not suggesting that you’ll have to count carbs forever, but it will help you become aware of your food habits and to determine the right carb amount for you.
Carbs and bio-individuality
At the end of the day, the amount of carbs you eat is based on a number of factors: How do you feel when eating carbs? How does your blood sugar react? Are you eating empty carbs (processed foods)? Are you trying to resolve weight or health concern issues? There truly is no one-size-fits-all diet, because no two people are exactly the same in the way their body metabolizes foods. Hopefully, the information contained here has given you some ideas on ways to manage your carbs and figure out what’s right for you.
The effect of dietary carbohydrates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review.
Low-glycemic load (GL) diets improve insulin resistance