The question of how many carbs do you need is one that rages from both extremes and is an area many people run into problems.
As with any debate in nutrition, it is hard to truly answer this question when looking at one nutrient in isolation. The effect of the other dietary elements of carbs, fat, total calories, vitamin and nutrient intake etc will all play a role.
Carbohydrates are used as the most readily available fuel supply to give us energy every day. At the very basic level a carbohydrate is a sugar molecule – called a Sacchairide. These molecules are found in food on their own (glucose, fructose), in pairs with another sugar molecule (sucrose, lactose) or in longer chains of sugar molecules (starch, glycogen). People refer to starch as a complex carbohydrate while the former two as simple sugars. Either way, upon digestion, all carbohydrate are broken down into sugar and absorbed by the body. Once in the system it is either taken immediately for use in the cells or transported to the liver to be converted into the storage form of carbohydrate (glycogen) and kept for later use within the liver itself or the muscles within the body.
Different people have different nutritional needs. This is obvious if you work with nutrition clients yet still most people deny it is true, including many nutritional practitioners. Due to the diversity of places humans have lived in the world and the now mixed genes we all have your body can be classified somewhere along the spectrum of needing high carb to low carb. This was seen in comparison diets of native tribes by Weston A Price where he witnessed the Eskimos having a very low carb diet (54g/day) while there were tribes in south and central america consisting of very high carbohydrate diet.
What this means for you today is that your body can also fit somewhere along these lines from needing a large amount of carbs to not needing so many. Another factor is also lifestyle and how much we do or do not move.
Most studies of carb intake use grams of carbs per Kg of body weight to be able to talk about the amounts to eat per day. Standard tables are shown below –
As the vast majority do not know how much they are consuming these sort of tables are only really helpful for highly monitored diets or people who are very compliant and consistent. For the majority of people they are better off using food reactions, hunger and cravings to find their ideal levels.
Carbohydrates, hunger and food cravings
Carbohydrates are important in controlling food cravings based on both the daily intake and how much you eat per meal. Through manipulations of the % of calories in a meal from Protein: Carbs: Fat you are able to greatly change the reaction experienced after eating without changing the total size of the meal (calorie content). If you are too low in carb content protein intake for the day or meal you will often experience negative reactions post eating which include cravings or feeling hungry soon afterwards. Use this form below to note reactions post eating and experiment in finding your ideal amounts.
Carbohydrates – Fat loss and fat gain
When it comes to fat loss the key with carbohydrates is to find the ideal level that gives you energy to exercise, feel normal in life yet not suffer food cravings. This should allow you to reduce total food intake to a level where you lose fat. Contrary to popular belief carbohydrates do not make you fat. Overeating on them does, but that is true of protein and fat also. The key to understand is that you need some or the body will become super sluggish and your cravings will rise and the result is you are very inconsistent with your diet.
To gain fat overeating on carbohydrates you must overeat for a period of time (a few days). One days bad eating cannot cause you to store body fat. This is because you gain body fat once your carbohydrate stores are full within the body. You cannot fill your stores up in one day if they are already at under capacity from eating sensibly and exercising. Once the stores are full then any periods of overeating will lead straight to fat gain.
Carbohydrates and Health
It is all very common now to cite carbs as the enemy of health. Where some lay the blame at sugar, others grains and so forth. The other side of the coin is that if you do not hit your body’s demands you are compromising your health. For many people this is way more than what they believed their body needs.
Another issue with carbs is many forms of them are sensitive towards people’s bodies. Dairy, wheat, gluten based grains are often highly irritable to an individual. These carb sources therefore accentuate health issues and are partly responsible for the blanket “carbs are bad” many nutrition strategists proclaim.
Carbs summary and real world application
As ever with food the carb issue comes back to where you are at with your food and what level of body shape you are aiming for. The average person in the street would probably gain from cutting down on their carb intake, increasing protein and noting their food reactions using the form above. For sports people or low carb dieters they should test their diet to ensure they are hitting their minimum levels of carb intake.
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