You may hear the word “carbs” and immediately want to pass them up and say no to them. They are thought to cause unwanted weight gain and have become an enemy to many people trying to lose weight.
While this sentiment has been widely accepted in diet culture, the reality of consuming carbs is that there is nothing wrong with it, especially when done thoughtfully. There are ways to be smart about consuming carbs, but with so many opinions on carbs leaning towards negative. This makes it not always easy to get helpful advice from those around you.
We get that navigating carbs is complex but you’ve come to the right place! We’ve put together a guide on how to best fit them into your diet in a healthy and nutritious way. So ignore what the carb haters say and get some carbs!
What Is a Carb?
A carb, or a carbohydrate, is a naturally occurring compound (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) that's vital in all life forms. It is a macronutrient found in many different foods and drinks that aids in various functions of the body. Sugars, fibers, and starches are all considered carbohydrates and are needed to keep you healthy.
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients that are needed to make daily functioning possible. Like protein and healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates make sure that our bodies can move and think and speak. Our energy is produced by the food we eat, and carbs play a vital role in keeping up our energy.
Currently, health guidelines say that because everyone is different, the number of carbs you should consume is between 45-65 percent of your total daily calorie intake. With each carbohydrate equal to four calories, typically more than 1,000 of the daily calories you consume should be carbs, but why are carbs often painted as the villain?
There are two types of carbs that we consume: simple carbs and complex carbs. One of them is burned faster than the other and provides short bursts of energy while the other is made up of fiber and starches that keep you satisfied for longer.
To put it plainly, simple carbs are sugars that are broken down and processed rather easily by the body, providing you with short bursts of energy. You know that sugar high you get after eating an apple cider donut? Great. So you must know the imminent feeling of crashing afterward as well!
Simple carbs are two blocks of sugar linked together and easily break down, which is why they are often sweet. With these carbs, they break down faster because the chains are short. They can be found in whole foods like milk and fruit, but might be more noticed in processed and refined sugars like syrups and candy.
Some examples of simple carbs are:
- Table sugar
- Brown sugar
- Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup
- Glucose, fructose, sucrose, and lactose
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Ice cream
It’s nonsensical to write off simple carbs from your diet because they do serve a helpful purpose of giving you energy quickly when you need it. Simple sugars are great for people who need the extra push, maybe after an intense workout or mid day.
You just want to make sure that you are not only consuming simple carbs. For longer-lasting energy and more health benefits, you should be consuming complex carbs in your diet, like fiber-rich foods!
Starch or fiber is what makes up complex carbohydrates. This is usually three or more sugars linked together that tend to contain fiber and break down slower than simple carbs because the chains are longer. Complex carbs typically exist inside foods that contain healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them helpful in providing longer-lasting energy and more overall health benefits.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that doesn’t break down or get absorbed into the body but does help rid of waste. There are two kinds of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber comes from whole grains and vegetables and helps to bulk up our stool. Insoluble fiber makes digestion happen with the help of soluble fiber, which takes in water and creates a substance that binds with cholesterol and fat as it travels through our digestion system.
Examples of complex carbs are:
- Whole fruits and vegetables
- Legumes, like beans and lentils
- Whole grains
- Whole wheat products
- Sweet Potato
Adding more complex carbs into your diet is great for your overall health. Dietary fiber can’t be absorbed by a human body’s cells, but once it reaches the gut, it feeds the good bacteria that live there. This bacteria then produces nutrients like short-chain fatty acids that help to reduce discomfort in the gut and help digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
What Is the Purpose of a Carb?
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. Carbs help to give energy to many parts of the body that are critical in proper functioning, like the brain, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system.
If you are not getting enough carbs, you might be able to tell because you will feel tired, weak, nauseous, will have trouble concentrating, constipation, and headaches.
Your Carbohydrate Needs
Our bodies need carbs! Do not deprive yourself of them!
When you aren’t getting enough carbs daily, your body will begin stealing protein to create glucose to use for energy. Glucose is in high demand because it is the carb that the tissues and organs in your body prefer. Understanding your carbohydrate needs is essential in maintaining a functioning body.
The minimum amount required to ensure your body functions properly is 130 grams of carbs a day. In general, people will need more than this to function at their most optimal level. Around 130 grams will ensure that the nervous system and brain are in order.
Not everyone has the same body type, needs, or dietary restrictions. Your carbohydrate intake will be based on how active you are, if you have any weight goals, and if you have chronic illnesses that might benefit from higher dietary fiber intakes.
In general, you can follow a formula to figure out how many calories in carbs you should be consuming daily. If you know how many calories you will need each day start with that number first:
- Take how many calories you need in a day and divide it in half. This is going to be how many calories should come from carbs that you consume.
- Take that number and divide it by four . Each carbohydrate has four calories in it, so whatever you are left with is how many carbs you should consume!
For example, if my recommended daily calorie intake is 2400, the equation will look like this:
(2400 divided by 2)
Then divided the above result by 4 = 300 grams
Choosing Which Carbs To Eat
So, maybe by now, we have convinced you that carbs can be good for you. Shying away from them can do more harm than anything.
Navigating the world of carbs may have gotten a bit more difficult now that you know you can eat them. It’s good to know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs. Make no mistake, no carbs are bad carbs, it’s just very dependent on how much of which carbs you are eating.
Eat Complex Carbs From Whole Food Sources
Adding more vegetables and fruits into your diet will benefit you greatly for many reasons. Whole foods like raw vegetables and fruit are loaded with good carbs like fiber, which your body needs for proper digestive functioning. Including more fiber daily can help minimize fluctuating blood sugar levels that have a positive impact on your heart.
Whole grain is also another great option to choose when it comes to carbs. You can find whole grain and whole wheat options of bagels, English muffins, and bread. Also, sprouted breads contain whole grains and are easier on digestion. Not only do all these complex carb-filled foods have fiber, but they are also loaded with other vitamins and minerals that are essential for proper nutrition.
Dismiss Complex Carbs From Refined Sources
Refined sources like white bread and most pasta are stripped of fiber, meaning that the complex carbs you are getting from them are not going to be as nutritional and will break down much faster. Refined sources might maintain longer shelf life, but the process they undergo strips them of iron and B vitamins.
By simply opting out of refined carb choices, you can ensure that you are avoiding bad carbs. You can choose whole-grain bread over white, brown rice over white, and oatmeal over cereal to prevent consuming refined carbs.
And What About Simple Carbs?
You should be eating simple carbs in moderation. They don’t provide many nutrients to your body when you consume them and instead get used as energy rather quickly. They may work to spike your blood sugar and give you a burst of energy, but you will feel the after-effects shortly after if you don’t consume food with more sustenance.
If you just finished a vigorous workout, you might be on the lookout for something to raise your blood sugar. This is why athletes highly seek out sports drinks.
They provide a spike in blood sugar because the simple sugars help to give a push that enhances athletic performance. If you are burning up all your energy via physical activity, you will need to replenish what you have lost. Simple carbs can do this for you, but the effects won’t last for that long.
In the long run, grabbing a handful of strawberries is going to give you more than a strawberry-flavored sports drink. At the same time, we don’t blame you at all for having that drink on hand.
What Is A Low-Carb Diet?
People trying to lose weight have probably tried a low-carb diet at least once in their journey. This diet is not going to be for everyone, but it has shown success in losing weight.
Low-carb diets usually suggest people participating to consume 40 percent or less of their daily calorie intake in carbs. When people are on this diet, they are often associating white bread, white rice, pastries, and sweets with being the only foods that have carbs in them.
With what we’ve just learned about simple carbs, we know that the foods that are often associated with carbs are actually just foods that contain more simple carbs than complex carbs. These foods promote weight gain, and eating too many can cause build-up and increase your risk of chronic disease.
When glucose enters the body’s cells, extra glucose is stored in the liver, muscle, and some convert into body fat. Low carb diets aim to use up the glucose stored in the body fat so that you can lose weight.
Why Do People Go Low Carb?
People decide to go low carb for many reasons, but many do it because they are trying to lose weight. Low-carb diets also might reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, so there are benefits to the diet beyond weight loss.
Maybe you enjoy low-carb foods, and so you just happen to follow the diet! Regardless of why you are beginning the diet, you should consult with your doctor if you have any health-related conditions, like diabetes, that could affect your journey.
How Does the Low Carb Diet Affect You?
A low-carb diet’s goal is to use up stored glucose in body fat due to a deficit in carbohydrates entering the body. The goal is often to lose weight, which a low-carb diet does seem to help, but with an increase in protein and fats, this diet also makes you feel fuller for longer.
It puts an emphasis on more healthy ways to get good carbs into your diet. You will focus more on how much protein you consume and find new ways to feel fulfilled. Low-carb diets have also been associated with lowering the risk of getting Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease.
If you are transitioning into a low-carb diet, you may notice a quick drop in body weight. This is generally due to a decrease in water weight from our muscles being deprived of glucose. You might get headaches, stomach cramping, and constipation due to lowering your carb intake, which is your body entering a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a state your body goes into when it begins breaking fat down into ketones to use for energy. Some people willingly enter a state of ketosis because it can result in rapid weight loss.
You must reach out to a doctor if you are beginning a low-carb diet and experience any unusual symptoms. Trust your gut on this one, and do what’s best for you!
Carbohydrates and Diabetes
When you eat carbohydrates, the digestive system begins to break down some of the links into sugar, which then enters the bloodstream. As sugar levels in your blood begin to rise, insulin is released and helps absorb the blood sugar for energy and storage.
When you develop Type 2 Diabetes, it is because your body has stopped responding to insulin. Insulin resistance causes your blood sugar and insulin levels to stay at a very high level, and eventually, the production of insulin will just come to an end.
The Importance of Blood Sugar
In diabetes, controlling your blood sugar is very important as your body can’t process carbohydrates normally. Having too high blood sugar levels can cause issues, and so can having too low blood sugar levels.
People who struggle with diabetes will have to focus on managing their blood sugar to feel their best and not go into hyper- or hypoglycemia. This is why people with diabetes often have to take large doses of insulin or medication when eating too many carbs.
Hyperglycemia happens when there is too much sugar in the blood because there is a lack of insulin in the body. If there is too much sugar in your blood, you might experience vision problems and rapid heartbeat, leading to other serious health conditions.
Hypoglycemia is the opposite of hyperglycemia. When your blood sugar levels are too low, you might begin to feel lightheaded and shaky. Sometimes you become hypoglycemic due to your diabetes treatment lowering the total amount of carbs you consume. The feelings of lightheadedness and confusion can go away when you consume foods/drinks high in sugar, like orange juice!
Tips On Maintaining Your Blood Sugar
Keeping your blood sugar levels normal will not just help in preventing or treating type 2 diabetes. When you learn how to manage your blood sugar, you help avoid or push back the onset of health problems, like kidney disease, vision loss, and heart disease, as well as helping to manage your mood and energy levels.
Don’t Just Dive In to Low Carbs
Any type of drastic change in your diet can lead to health-related issues, like energy loss, unwanted weight loss or weight gain, and fatigue.
It’s essential that you take the proper time and use the right resources to learn about your own personal nutritional needs. Maybe you want to lose weight, or maybe the doctors have told you this is the best way to manage your diabetes. Whatever the case is, taking the time to learn about going low-carb can prevent hypoglycemia and its effects.
If you know how many carbs you usually intake daily, you can then adjust your eating habits without going into this new lifestyle blind. Find the number of how many carbs you intake, and then gradually reduce the number of carbs you intake over the next few weeks. You don’t want to put your body into shock by dropping your carb intake by 20% overnight!
Learn How To Deal With Low Blood Sugar
The easiest way to deal with low blood sugar is to recognize your body’s signs that you are reacting. Everyone will be different, so while there are some common signs that your blood sugar levels are low, pinpointing exactly how you respond is key in helping you overcome it.
Some people will always have a carbohydrate-rich snack on them in case they feel their levels slipping. Some food options that you can keep handy to help raise blood sugar levels are:
- Fruit! Eating a few pieces of fruit or an apple while you are experiencing low blood sugar can help boost good sugars and energy.
- Whole-grain foods like bread and crackers will also give you good carbs to raise your blood sugar.
- Jelly, jam, or honey on a piece of whole-grain toast will also do the trick!
- Candy, believe it or not, is a great way to get a boost in your blood sugar levels. It might not be the healthiest, but you should eat what you can when you are in need.
Remember, your health comes first before any dieting rules, and you know your body best! Do what you need to keep yourself safe and feeling good.
Track Your Food Consumption, Including Carbs
Food tracking apps are a great way to see how many carbs you are consuming, along with percentages of protein and fats in your diet. If you know exactly how much you are putting into your body, it’s easier to see where you can make improvements.
Most people don’t know exactly how many calories there are in a product, or that product’s carb, protein, and fat makeup, but many apps are programmed to have a basic understanding of the percentages, so they do that work for you.
Once you have tracked your food consumption for a few weeks, you might begin to see patterns and where you can make improvements. If you are going low-carb, tracking can help make sure you are hitting your goals. Sometimes going in blind when it comes to a diet change can make it harder to gain momentum. Those with a plan are more likely to stick to it!
Drink Lots of Water
If you are lowering your carb intake, you must increase your protein and fat intake. To fully process the increased amount of protein, you will need an increased amount of water to help the breakdown. You might begin to feel dehydrated earlier if you try to lower your carbohydrate intake, as more water is used to break down the influx of other macronutrients.
Choose the Right Foods
If you are trying to manage your carbs, you need to be choosing the right carbs to consume.
You should stray away from simple carbs and processed foods because they won’t provide you with all the nutrients that complex carbs provide. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are a great way to consume good carbs while benefiting from their other healthy components.
Increasing your protein and healthy fats intake is also important, so choosing high-quality protein like eggs, tofu, or legumes and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts will help supplement the carbs lost.
Yes, those little packaged cupcakes and cookies look good, and they will give you a burst of sugar, but are they really worth it?
Understand Your Body
It can be hard to make the right dietary and health decisions for your own body. Maybe you’ve given out advice to your friends and family about changes they could make, but it’s seriously so hard to make changes for yourself. You are always left wondering, “Is this going to be good for me? What is actually happening to my body?”
With Vessel Health, you don’t have to wonder any longer. Using our services will give you the nutritional information you have been looking for about your own body. Try our free trial now to gain insight into your nutritional levels, stress levels, sleep habits, and much more.
By simply peeing on the test card that we ship directly to you and scanning it with our app afterward, you can gain access to all of your information.
Knowing how to work with your body to meet your nutritional needs is essential in living a happy and healthy life, so let us help you get one step closer!
Mikaela Frame See all the author’s articles