Confused about carbs? You’re not alone.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
Maybe you’ve been Paleo for a while, or perhaps you’ve just started to ditch carbs in hopes of shedding pounds. While low carb diets have proven to be healthful and therapeutic for a number of health conditions, it’s important to note that we are not one-size-fits-all.
Do any of these situations fit you? If so, read on to learn more about why you shouldn’t skimp on carbs.
Did you know that super low-carb diets aren’t ideal for these conditions and, in some cases, may cause or exacerbate them? Women in particular tend to have more carb requirements than men, particularly when women are in their fertile years.
Not all carbs are bad, and we need to remember that in our current epoch of carb phobia. For example, flaxseeds contain 3 grams of carbs per tablespoon (all of which are fiber), and may reduce hot flashes in menopausal women. While flaxseed is primarily rich in fatty acids (4 grams per tablespoon), and has a small amount of protein (2 grams per tablespoon), many on low carb diets skip it in favor of fatty acid sources that contain no fiber at all (coconut oil or butter).
Fatty acids can be healthful, but the body functions best with some carbs, preferably slow-burning carbs. Even low-carbers need fiber to regulate the function of the intestines and reset estrogen, as described in Dr. Sara Gottfried’s book, The Hormone Reset Diet.
This is where quality and choice come in: vegetable fiber is best.
Carbs and Biochemical Individuality
You may show similarities with someone externally or even in personality, but take a look at the DNA inside your cells and you’ll find a completely different blueprint. This is why no diet, no matter how proven it is, can be a one size fits all for everyone. Your mother or sister may have thrived on a low-carb diet, or your BFF may have dropped four pant sizes in four weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work out the same for you.
The body needs carbohydrates—especially during prime reproductive years—for a number of reasons. Let’s look at a few of them:
Ideal Conditions for Lowering Your Carb Intake
If you’re experiencing any of these situations, there’s a good possibility that your body is a little tipsy on carbs. In that case, reducing your carb intake—and therefore lowering your body’s glucose—could provide desired results, especially for women who have PCOS.
That being said, you do not need to go cold turkey! For some individuals, it is healthiest to progress slower. For example, if you’re currently eating 200 grams per day, drop back to 150 grams for a while, then to 100. If this seems to be working for you, talk with your doctor about whether keto eating plans or intermittent fasting may be an option for optimal health.
If you happen to fall under any of these categories, something you’ll want to learn is glycemic load. This refers to, essentially, the quality of the carbs you’re eating. When it comes to carbs, there are certainly such things as “empty” carbs and these will have a higher glycemic impact, i.e. will be more likely to cause a blood sugar spike.
Lower glycemic foods, like berries versus bananas, or beans versus refined bread, will help to reduce the immediate blood sugar spike and will help to spread out the energy use. Lower glycemic foods tend to be that way because they contain higher amounts of fiber, thus slowing digestion. The good thing is, a low-glycemic load diet can actually help to reduce systemic inflammation, which is good for all health conditions.
How to Optimize Your Carb Intake—3 Easy Steps
If you need to reassess your carb intake, start here.
1. If you fall under any of the conditions we’ve discussed here, such as reproductive health, PCOS, hypoglycemia, or diabetes, etc., consider making appropriate adjustments to your carb intake over time. It doesn’t have to be cold turkey to be effective.
2. Keep a food journal. This will help you not only pay attention to how many carbs you’re eating, it’ll also give you a space to notice whether things are trending better or worse. Make slow changes and listen to your body. Record how you feel each day, even if you think symptoms are unrelated to your carb intake. This can means moods or headaches, but also body aches, energy levels, bathroom habits, and even your appetite and food cravings.
3. Pay attention to food quality and glycemic load. This can come down to simple logic (vegetables are better quality carbs than white rice), or it can come down to doing some research. You can calculate net carbs by subtracting total fiber from total carbohydrates on nutrition labels, or by finding nutrition data for almost any food online. Net carbs refer to the expected effect that carbs will actually have on your blood sugar. Foods with more fiber have a lesser effect on blood sugar, and thus have fewer net carbs, whereas foods with little or no fiber but many carbs will cause more of a dramatic increase of your blood glucose.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat according to Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD:
“This really comes down to you—your genetic individuality and all of the health factors at play. Fifty grams of carbohydrates is considered low carb; 50-150 is considered low-to-moderate, and 150-200 is considered high carb (without being dangerously-bad-for-your-glucose-high, which would be 250 and higher). Pregnant women should be getting right around 200 grams daily, as should athletes, women experiencing thyroid disorders, adrenal fatigue, and hypoglycemia (always paired with protein!). Women with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or PCOS would benefit from having fewer carbs in general.”
Don’t be carb phobic; carbs are an important part of a balanced meal plan and balanced hormones, but choose the slow-burning whole food options such as in vegetables and starchy tubers—sweet potatoes, yucca, and plantains.