We’ll break down why carbs are important, how much we need for our body and goals, the type to eat and how to balance them with a healthy lifestyle.
The low to no-carbohydrate diets have taken us by storm, leaving us in a flurry of confusion about whether or not we should be a pro or no-carb person. Although carbs have gotten a bad rap lately, we’ll break down why carbs are important, how much we need for our body and goals, the type to focus on, and how to balance them with a healthy lifestyle.
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. They’re needed to help fuel the function of your brain, muscles, and cells. They’re so important that your body stores extra for times in which you may not be able to get them from your diet.
Carbohydrates also contain healthy nutrients such as fiber, which is required for good digestion, increasing satiety, and regulating cholesterol levels (1). Wholesome and natural carbohydrate sources also contain vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
When we don’t get enough carbohydrates, we may experience some bothersome symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, weakness, constipation, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The long-term health risks of cutting carbs are not clear yet, and there is no cohesive evidence for how the body will react for months or years (2).
The amount of carbohydrates you should eat depends on your age, biological gender, activity level, and health. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established a general recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 130 grams per day for adults. This number is based on the amount required to provide our brain with enough energy. A range of 45%-65% of total calories per day is a suitable standard (3).
This recommendation changes, however, depending on your activity level and goal. For example, high-level athletes need about 6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, depending on gender, activity level, and amount of energy expended (4). If you live a more active lifestyle, you may need more carbohydrates.
Some research has shown that lower carbohydrate diets can be effective for weight loss. That’s because it sometimes tends to reduce appetite and cause quick weight loss (5). But it's important to note that the initial weight loss could be water weight. Some studies have also suggested that low-carb diets can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol (5).
Lowering your carb count may be something that you find success with, but everybody is different and responds differently to specific foods. If you feel like you have very low energy or don’t feel like yourself when on a low-carb diet, it may not be right for you. If you simply eat a lower amount of the less nutrient-rich types of carbs from your diet, you’ll be on your way to better health and better weight management.
When it comes to the number of carbohydrates to limit, there isn’t a specific amount that’s been scientifically proven to meet all needs. That’s why it can be helpful to download healthy nutrition plans in the Lifesum app and try out different low-carb diets to find what works for you!
The best types of carbohydrates are the ones found in whole foods, versus the types that are added to food, such as sugar. There are different types of carbohydrates including sugar, starches, and fiber. Then carbohydrates are either simple or complex, depending on their structure and the rate at which they get absorbed (6).
The simple sources of carbohydrates, such as sugar, candy, soda, and syrups can raise blood sugar, leading to a drastic peak and then crash. It can also contribute to higher triglycerides. Too much of these carbs over time can increase the risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes (6).
Refined grains such as white flour and white rice have been processed to have fiber and nutrients removed, making them poorer in nutrients. However, there are some sources of simple carbs that are more naturally found in foods, like dairy and fruit, which are more nutritious, as they contribute with other nutrients, too.
Complex carbohydrates are digested slower and keep more steady blood sugar and energy levels. They also contain fiber which helps benefit gut health and keep cholesterol levels regulated. Unrefined whole grains keep many of the nutrients and fiber, which also helps keep you feeling more satisfied. So, focus on sources of complex carbohydrates such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Carbohydrates are found naturally in plant-based foods. They are also added to processed food such as that added simple sugar or starch. Common sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, and lentils. Processed foods that contain carbohydrates include table sugar, soda, candy, pastries, chips, and crackers. These are the ones that are better to limit to improve your overall health.
Ready to test out different levels of carbohydrates in your diet to find the ideal amount for you? Download Lifesum to give it a go.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.