Too Many? Too Few? How Many Carbs Should We Eat?
Lately, I’ve noticed at least a dozen Paleo type books on the market. Paleo is a popular diet based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans. It’s based on the premise that our genes have not changed much since the Paleolithic era and to be really healthy, we should go back to that diet. The Paleo Diet is a modern version of low-carb, high protein diets, the most popular of which were Atkins and South Beach. It’s similar to other low carb diets, except that the foods included in the diet are the foods that were available then: meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts. It excludes grains, dairy products, legumes, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. Some differences are the Atkins and South Beach diets include cheese, where Paleo diet contains low-glycemic carbohydrates and good Omega-3 fats. Of course, all healthy eating plans should be low in trans fats, processed carbs and chemicals. But like the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet relies heavily on meat, but critics believe that meat today isn’t as lean or toxic-free as it was thousands of years ago. The question is: do we really have to be so extreme to lose weight and gain health?
Even Among the Experts There are Controversies
On one hand, you read a book entitled The Low Carb Fraud, and on the other hand, books like Wheat Belly or Grain Brain make a good point about the negative effect of carbohydrates on the brain and body. The controversy about diets has been going on for many years, and will continue to go on. And why shouldn’t there be so many opinions? Many of the authors of the low-carb diets were searching for an answer to their health and weight loss problems. The obesity epidemic that we are now experiencing coincidentally began with an emphasis on a high-carb, low-fat diet, recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid. Some call this the biggest failed nutritional experiment in history. It’s not normal for humans to consume the large amounts of refined carbs that people eat today. The Food Guide Pyramid recommended an average of 250 to 300 grams.
To add insult to injury, most of the carbohydrates that Americans were and still are eating are not the non GMO, healthy whole grains eaten by cultures around the globe but rather processed carbs, often made with bad fats and sugar. So obviously, everyone should be encouraged to eat unprocessed natural whole grains, the kind that we now know, do not contribute to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Still Confused About Grains?
Maybe you are not yet ready to jump into the Paleo lifestyle, but perhaps you want to know how many carbs to eat. After studying nutrition forty some years and practicing in Tulsa more than seventeen years, I’ve worked with thousands of people, from all walks of life: Male, female, young and old, athletic and sedentary. And after working with more than 12,000 clients, I’ve seen that nearly everyone benefits from a lower carb diet. However, I’ve steered my clients to a more balanced approach, taking into consideration their weight loss goals, lifestyle, body type, blood type, ancestry and metabolic type. There is no one diet that works for everyone. People with autoimmune disease or inflammation need to eat a diet lower in grains. Some people are gluten sensitive, especially people with Celiac disease. Yet others can’t handle a traditional low-carb diet due to the side effects of constipation and muscle cramps. However, most women, especially over 40 years old, need to watch carb servings. I personally lost a good deal of weight on a modified version of the South Beach diet, which I still follow to some degree. So I recommend lower carbs, not necessarily no carbs.
Everyone Should Ditch Processed Carbs
Nearly every nutritionist does agree on this. Just cutting out the large amounts of processed carbs and sugars that have crept into our diets can help you lose weight and be healthier. You know, the temptations…that extra slice of bread at dinner or chips and salsa with Mexican food. Not only are they without fiber and nutrients, but also they usually contain the bad type of fats. It’s no wonder that these foods make us fat.
But should we throw out the baby with the bath water? What about eating a lower carb, more balanced diet? Non-gluten carbs (see my future blogs) are generally not as processed as wheat has been and seem to be tolerated by most people.
How Low Should You Go?
Low carb (usually refers to no grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes) doesn’t mean no carb. Carbohydrates are necessary for energy in the body, particularly for people who exercise. Carbohydrates, particularly whole grains, also provide valuable nutrients such as B vitamins, so those who reduce carbohydrate intake to very low levels risk nutritional deficiencies. So how low should you go?
Some low-carb diets, such as Atkins, South Beach and Dukan, all start low (0-35 grams) but through a period of time, gradually add back complex carbohydrates, a week at a time, so you can find a good level of carbs for you. Even the carb servings in a Paleo type diet can range from low, 30-50 grams of starchy carbohydrates to 100-150 grams. The average overweight American eats between 250-300 grams daily. I help people find their ideal carb level on an individual basis, but certainly a lower range would help most people.
Here are some benefits of following a lower carb diet.
Benefits of a Lower Carb Diet
- Weight loss is easier
- Blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels are improved
- Blood sugar levels improve
- Insulin levels drop
- Controlling calories is easier
- More balanced carbs, fats and proteins
- Easier (than fad diets) to follow for a lifestyle
- Easier to retain muscle
- Easier to deal with hunger and cravings
- Easier to maintain good energy and health
Tips for Eating Lower Carbs
1. Eliminate all processed white flour carbs. It’s pretty easy to not eat white bread, white pasta, white cereals once you’ve began to eat more natural foods because these foods even taste “empty” as well as are empty calories.
2. Try going gluten-free. Gluten is only found in the wheat family (wheat, spelt, kamut), rye and barley. There are lots of alternatives to wheat. Try healthier ancient grains, which I will discuss in future blogs. For example, some families enjoy rolled oats for breakfast, quinoa pasta in a salad at lunch, or even brown rice as a side dish at dinner. However, I’m not a fan of highly processed gluten free foods.
3. Reduce your portion sizes of carbohydrates. It’s too easy to overeat carbohydrates, and most of us would benefit by reducing portion sizes. You might be surprised when you really read labels. Rather than 1 cup of oatmeal or brown rice, or quinoa pasta, have ½ cup serving. Rather than 2 pieces of bread, only have one, or cut out the bread and tortilla wrap and have a lettuce wrap. That way you can at least get the fiber benefit of wholesome grains without cutting them out completely.
Next week we’ll look at the non-gluten containing grains, starting with amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat and corn.