How many carbs should I eat?

The simple answer as to why we get fat is that carbohydrates make us so; protein and fat do not.
— Gary Taubes

What is a carbohydrate?

According to Wikipedia, A carbohydrate is a biological molecule consisting of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms, usually with a hydrogen–oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 (as in water); in other words, with the empirical formula Cm(H2O)n (where m could be different from n).

Say what?

In easier terms, carbs are the sugars, starches, and fibers in our food. They can be simple or complex, and are essential to life.

Are carbs evil?

I can't deem anything essential to life evil. Carbohydrates, which get broken down into simple sugars in your gut (that includes all carbs!) and then transferred into your bloodstream, are used by our cells to make energy. 

With the popularity of the paleo diet and subsequent lo-carb lifestyle, carbs have become the red-headed stepchild of dietary macro-nutrients. (No offense to redheads, my BFF is one.) It's true that our food environments are saturated with carb laden options, but carbohydrates can be a part of a very healthy diet.

Travel back in time with me.

Let's visit our distant ancestors, when they were still hunting and gathering, prior to the invention of food preservation and processing. Carb heavy foods would become abundant in the later months of summer, as fruits fully ripened and tubers were at their peak. And so, they ate. I'm sure they ate their share and then some.

As they consumed these carbohydrates, their bodies used what was needed by shuttling sugar into their cells with the help of the hormone insulin, which acts as a chaperone for sugar. The sugar that was not needed immediately for energy was then converted into glycogen, essentially back up sugar stored in the cells. This extra sugar was also cycled back to the the liver, where it was converted to triglycerides which were then transported to fat cells by the other red-headed stepchild, cholesterol. 

Winter is coming.

This process would likely happen again and again until BOOM. Winter. No more fruit. Frozen ground. Food is scarce. So, our ancestors bodies kicked it into keto-gear, releasing those triglycerides into the bloodstream for cells to convert to energy.  

And for their body's sugar needs?  Protein in their body was converted into sugar via the process of gluconeogenesis

Modern day mayhem.

Nowadays, most of us don't have food scarcity during the winter. We don't have food scarcity period. But we still have this very deep physiological push to consume carbohydrates in order to put fat on our body for the eventual period of starvation that will surely come. (Random sidenote: Your cells are only concerned with keeping you alive long enough to procreate and get your young able to survive on their own. That's the end game.)

Understanding how carbohydrates make us fat is not rocket science. And connecting the dot between carbohydrate consumption and the very primal needs of our bodies means that you are not crazy for wanting to eat the whole tray of Oreos. 

How do I not eat the tray of Oreos?

Well, it's kind of simple. Don't buy Oreos. Don't have a tray of Oreos in front of you. Don't use your kids as an excuse to have that food around. They don't need it any more than you do. 

I know that can be much easier said than done. But here's the deal. Processed, simple carbs are THE WORST kind of carbs a human being can put into his/her body. Period. Yes, we are still human. And yes, we know what those delicious concoctions taste like, and sometimes we choose to eat them. But it's very different to eat them on occasion than to eat them daily. 

Can you now see how daily consumption can lead to weight gain? Your body is just going full Game of Thrones on you. WINTER IS COMING!

How many carbs should I eat?

In my Health Coach training, which is based in paleo principles, the recommendations were such, and I agree:

  • For weight loss eat 50 grams of carbs or less per day.
  • For weight management eat no more than 150 grams of carbs per day.

Pretty simple. I will caveat this with each human body has its own "carb threshold", and needs. Eating more than 110 grams of carbs per day may cause me to gain weight, whereas you can eat 150 grams per day with no issues. You have to do a little tracking and detective work to find out where that space of equilibrium is for your body. And if you have a physically demanding job, workout a lot, or are an athlete, your needs may be higher day by day.

Also, the quality of the carbs you put into your body matters. The more refined and processed, the worse off you'll be. This applies to ANY FOOD. 

Final Thoughts

The low-carb craze is in full swing, and while I do agree that most Americans eat way to many carbs on a daily basis for smooth functioning of their mind and body, I think it can be easy to fall prey to obsessing over carbs in your diet. Rather than low-carb, I'd recommend controlled carb. 

Just be intentional with your carb consumption. Find out how much carbohydrate is in the foods you are eating. If you choose to eat a lot of carbs at one meal, make the meals surrounding it low-carb. 

Quit being a food zombie. Think about what you eat!