Carb FAQs including Why Carbs Are Important
I believe in everything in moderation. But, sometimes people make carbs out to be bad and recommend low-carb diets. So, let's address this misconception that carbs are unhealthy....
First off, everyone needs all three of the macronutrients--carbohydrates, proteins, & fats. There is no single amount of carbs that is right for everyone, but there is a recommended range...
Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR)
AMDR is a fancy phrase for the percent of calories that should come from carbs, fat, and protein, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine:
45-65% Calories from Carbohydrates
20-35% Calories from Fat
10-35% Calories from Protein
Because these nutrient recommendations are a range, everyone can get them differently. Some people do very well on a high carb diet with 65% calories from carbohydrates. Some people do well with only 45% calories from carbs.
What do these percentages even mean?
These percentages probably mean nothing to you. So, let's look at what these mean in terms of calories & grams.
You've probably heard that people should eat around 2000 calories per day. Your recommended calorie intake should actually vary depending on weight, age, gender, & physical activity. But 2000 calories a day is a good estimate for someone who weighs 150# (68 kilograms), so let's use this as a starting point.
Based the IOM AMDR of 45-65%, 900-1300 calories should come from carbs. Each gram of carbs is worth 4 calories. So, this is 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day...which might sound quite high.
Where do we get those carbs?
I'm not recommending that you eat 225 to 325 grams of added sugar per day. Remember that carbohydrates come from many foods--dairy, grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, & vegetables.
Different foods provide different carbs.
One cup of cow's milk contains 12 grams of carbs, which come from the natural sugar lactose. In comparison, one cup of cooked brown rice has 84 grams of carbs. None of the carbs in brown rice come from lactose & only two grams come from natural sugars. Some of the carbs in brown rice come from fiber--about 6 grams. Speaking of fiber, most people should aim to get at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Why so many carbohydrates? What about low carb diets, like Atkins?
Low-carb diets are often used for weight loss short-term, but there are risks long-term.
In our bodies, most carbs are converted to sugar. Some carbs, like insoluble fiber, will pass out of us undigested. Fiber is important because it helps us have regular bowel movements.
Everyone needs natural sugar to survive. We need a minimum of 130 grams of sugar per day for our brain and our blood cells to function. We need additional sugar for energy. Sugar can be stored in our muscles and liver and released when we need more energy, such as during exercise.
If we don’t get enough sugar, our body starts breaking down our muscles and fat. That’s why low-carb diets work for weight loss—your body will break down fat and you lose weight.
But, we don’t want our bodies to break down our muscles. In severe cases, the body will even break down the organs, including the heart. Obviously, this isn’t good and can result in death.
Are there exceptions? Who might benefit from a low-carb diet?
Patients with some medical conditions, particularly epilepsy, have found that following a low-carb diet and producing ketones improves their condition. These patients follow a ketogenic diet under medical supervision. Please consult your doctor or healthcare team if you think a keto diet might be right for you.
What are ketones? What is ketosis or ketoacidosis?
While the body breaks itself down, it produces ketones. Ketones can be excreted by the body.
Sometimes, especially in diabetics, ketones build up and make blood acidic. This is called diabetic ketoacidosis. If left untreated, it can lead to coma.
How do I avoid that?
To avoid the body breaking itself down and producing ketones, everyone, including and especially diabetics, should eat at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. In type 1 diabetes, insulin administration is also required to help the body use sugar.
Reminder: Everything in Moderation
Although a carbohydrate-based diet is recommended by the Institute of Medicine, we should also eat protein and fat. A diet that removes any nutrient can have negative effects. Eat a varied diet to get a mix of nutrients.