Good Carbs – Bad Carbs… How Much Should You Have?

Stefaniya Koleva

In with Good Carbs, Out with Bad Carbs

“They” had it all wrong, didn’t they?

After the craze with the low-fat and high-carb diets during the 20th century, today the word “carbohydrates”, sounds like a bad thing. And why is that? Many people—even educated nutritionists and experienced athletes—blame this essential macronutrient for weight gain and health problems.

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Sure, it’s true that carbs can create cravings for sweets, increase blood sugar levels and lead to numerous health problems. There is a huge “BUT” coming after the previous statement and it refers to the different kinds of carbohydrates. Sweets and pastries are full of carbohydrates, but so are avocados, vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods. We should have this in mind when making generalized statements on how harmful carbs are. There are, as many people refer to them, “bad carbs”(e.g. most derived sugars, sweets of all kinds, and refined foods). Then there are “good carbs” from fruits and vegetables, that are essential for healthy gut flora and proper brain function.

This doesn’t mean that low-carb or even ketogenic diets are bad for your health. I am just one of many maintaining this kind of lifestyle by following a LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diet and to be honest this way of eating has helped me reduce my weight and blood sugar levels. These are things that none of my previous diets, even those created by nutritionists, could help me do. I have tried vegetarian, vegan, raw diets but none of them have had the best results for me.

There are advantages to consuming more carbs. For me it works best to charge my body with carbohydrates once a week. Carb management helps in controlling my thyroid disease, which otherwise would likely get worse on my LCHF. Here is an explanation on the connection between T3 levels and low carbs. 

And here comes the most important part in determining how much carbs you should eat – your health condition. Are you healthy? Do you have an autoimmune or a chronic disease? Do you exercise? These and other questions are extremely important when determining your ideal carbohydrate intake.

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A 3-step guide written by staff nutritionist Kelsey Marksteiner, RD on Chris Kresser blog presents to us the most important things she takes into consideration when deciding how much carbs her clients NEED to eat.

Let’s go through the 3-step process I use to help clients determine their ideal carbohydrate intake.

Step 1: Consider Underlying Diseases/Conditions

This is critical. If you have diabetes, you’re likely going to do better on a lower carbohydrate diet. If you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, you’ll probably want to limit your carbohydrate consumption while you treat the SIBO. Note the emphasis there: for someone with a gut dysbiosis issue, a low-carbohydrate diet is used as a therapeutic intervention and isn’t meant to be continued for life. I see so many clients who started a low-carb diet because they wanted to use it therapeutically, only to never try reintroducing those foods again.

If you have adrenal fatigue, you’ll likely feel better on a more moderate carbohydrate diet along with eating snacks to keep your blood sugar stable. Breastfeeding? You’ll definitely want some carbs, too. The point here is that there are many conditions that affect how your body deals with carbohydrates, so you need to take these into consideration when thinking about how much carbohydrate you might do well with.

Step 2: Get Started!

If you are an overall healthy person (and you either don’t exercise or exercise moderately), I suggest starting on a moderate carbohydrate diet and experimenting from there. When I first start working with a client who has no underlying health issues and wants to find their ideal carbohydrate intake, I often have them begin by implementing what I like to call “The Rule of Thirds”. That is, their plate should be ⅓ protein, ⅓ starchy tubers, and ⅓ non-starchy vegetables. It ends up being a moderate carbohydrate diet (though it depends on their calorie intake of course) – not astronomically high like the Standard American Diet, and nowhere near a ketogenic diet. Eating three meals a day like this also means they’re less likely to skimp on calories (and I’ll work with them to make sure this is the case).

Step 3: Experiment! (And Take Notes)

From there, we experiment. Sometimes the carbohydrate intake will feel too high. It might trigger cravings for sweets, or perhaps increase their blood sugar too much.

I’ll have my client track their meals and take notes along the way with how they’re feeling so we can really see what’s going on. This is a crucial (and often overlooked) part of the process. If you’re not taking notes and keeping track of your meals, the experimentation phase can feel downright overwhelming. Being able to look back and track how your symptoms change with a concurrent change in carbohydrate intake is vital to figuring out the right level for you. If there’s a disease we’re dealing with (i.e. diabetes or adrenal fatigue), we focus on tracking those symptoms (blood sugar and fatigue, respectively) to see how they change.

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Image from CristiVlad.com

 

No One Way is Absolute Truth for Everyone

Now that you know the basics you may try to determine your ideal carb intake either by experimentation or by consulting a specialist. Remember, carbohydrates are not your enemy. The amount and type, may be. Every person has individual needs, goals and health issues. That is why no diet, no percentage of carbs or number of calories are equally good or bad for all of us. Be conscious of your own body and listen to its needs. One may feel good by eating only 15% carbohydrates from the daily caloric intake but at the same time you may need to eat at least 40% to feel good.

The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy.

 

RESOURCES

ARTICLES:
3 Step Process to Determining Your Ideal Carbohydrate Intake, ChrisKresser.com
The Effect of a Ketogenic Diet on Thyroid Hormone, BJJCaveman.com
Healthy Eating 101: The Rule of Thirds, HealthyGutHealthyLife.com
Thyroid Hormone Levels and Very Low Carb (Ketogenic) Nutrition, CristiVlad.com