To eat carbs or not to eat carbs, that is the question! Depending on who you talk to, carbohydrates are either loved or feared. In my experience, everyone is different, and I will be providing really good guidance through my meal plans in the Wellness Challenge on how to eat the right amount of carbohydrates for you, but today we’ll cover the basics.
Keep in mind that too many carbs can be hugely responsible for weight gain, and too little carbohydrates can wreak havoc on your digestion and hormones. We’ve got to find the happy medium.
Before we get started, here are the most common foods that are carbohydrates:
There are three reasons avoiding carbohydrates completely can be hard on your body: digestion, hormones & pregnancy.
When it comes to digestion, studies have shown that a very low carb diet can reduce the diversity of gut flora, and gut flora is so so so important for overall health. When you eliminate carbohydrates you remove a lot of soluble fiber and prebiotics. I personally experimented with very low carb at a time, and did notice it disrupted my digestion.
As it relates to hormones, thyroid and adrenals are the most important. For your thyroid, insulin is required (in small amounts) for thyroid hormones to work properly. On low carb diets, insulin tends to be very low.
For anyone with adrenal fatigue (from chronic stress), low carb diets can sometimes also raise cortisol. If you already have high cortisol, this can further exacerbate the problem. Carbohydrates (in the right quantities, of course) can also be calming as the stimulate the body to produce serotonin, a happy, feel good, calming hormone.
Duh, right? Let me explain more though. Often I have clients coming to me with poor energy and tons of cravings. They tell me that they’re eating really well, but when we take a peak at their food journal, it’s actually too high on the carb intake.
As an example, a smoothie can be incredibly healthy, as can fruit. However, when you add a banana, a cup of berries, some mango and who knows what other fruit, it’s all of a sudden very high in sugar and carbohydrates.
Another example is eating beans & legumes as their protein. If you are a vegetarian for ethical reasons, this will likely be the case for you, but if you are simply doing it to be ‘healthy’ you will find your carbohydrate intake has gone through the roof. (One cup of chickpeas contains 21g of carbohydrates, and 7g protein.)
A good rule of thumb for portioning for females is a 1/2 cup cooked complex carbohydrate like yam, chickpeas or brown rice, or 1/2 cup fruit if it’s a smoothie.
For athletes, carbohydrates are a necessary form of energy and eating the right carbohydrates can truly enhance performance. Rather than going for artificial fuel like Gatorade or highly processed bars, try Medjool dates, coconut water or even maple syrup in water if you’re really exercising like crazy!
A simple 30-45 minute workout likely doesn’t warrant a massive carb load though. 🙂
Now, there are a number of situations where low carb diets are effective, usually when used for a short period of time. Particularly, if you have any sort of metabolic syndrome including diabetes (type 1&2), high blood pressure, are overweight, or have PCOS. By reducing your starchy carbohydrate intake and replacing some of them with green vegetables, protein & healthy fat, you will likely see very good weight-loss results.