Every time I post about what I eat in a day, I get A TONNN of questions about carbs. Things like:
- “Why don’t you eat carbs?”
- “So are you keto?”
- “Do you ever eat ____ (bread, sweets, etc.)?!!”
So I thought it was time to go over this in a little more detail. I don’t want my posts about my diet to confuse anyone and I don’t want to demonize carbs AT ALL. And yes, I DO EAT CARBS. Just maybe not the typical foods most people think of.
This post is written with a mixture of my personal experience, research, and with insight from our Registered Dietitian, Breanna Woods!
So. Let’s do a little carb 101, shall we?
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat!). You need all of the macronutrients to be healthy, but the amount needed varies from person to person.
Even though carbs do a lot of good things in the body (we’ll talk more about that later), they get a lot of attention when it comes to diet culture. Even though not all carbs are created equal, they’ve kind of become grouped into one “bad food” category – thanks to diets like keto that severely restrict them.
But like I said, not all carbs are the same! “Carbohydrates” include starches, fiber and sugar. All three work differently in the body.
Carbohydrates are more than just bread, pasta, pastries, and sweets. Healthy foods like fruits and veggies have carbs too! However, not all carbs are created equal.
Starches: these are foods like potatoes/sweet potatoes, legumes, lentils, grains like bread, pasta and crackers.
Fiber: if you’re looking for more fiber, go for plant-based foods: fruits, veggies and whole grains! Fiber is amazing for your digestive system, your cardiovascular system (see ya cholesterol), and can help you feel full between meals. Be sure to drink plenty of water if you’re upping your fiber intake … it can make you super bloated if you suddenly eat more than your body is used to!
Sugar: We all know what sugar is, but this can be broken down more into naturally-occurring sugar from fruit and dairy, and added sugar (table sugar). Foods with naturally-occurring sugar also have super healthy things like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. In other words – don’t fear those foods! If you feel like you should limit sugar, focus on added sugar. These are added during processing to things like baked goods, soda, and other more “processed” foods.
Whether or not a carb is refined is important too. More refined = more processed. So for example, white rice, breads and pastas. They’re stripped of fiber and other nutrients during processing, whereas brown rice, whole grain pastas, and whole grain breads aren’t. Since refined grains don’t have the fiber to slow digestion, they raise your blood sugar more quickly.
Carbs are the body’s preferred energy source.
When you eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose, which enters the cells to be used as fuel. Glucose provides fuel to the whole body, but it’s especially important for the brain.
Extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscles. This is what your body uses later during a workout! Yes, some glucose may be stored as fat. Can your body use fat and protein as fuel if there isn’t enough glucose? Yep! But it’s not as efficient and could even compromise muscle growth.
How many carbs do I need?
We all have different carbohydrate needs depending on our age, gender, build, activity level, and goals. For the average person, carbs make up ~40-65% of calories eaten each day. That means if you eat a 2000 calorie diet, 800 – 1200 calories would come from carbohydrates.
A “low-carb diet” usually refers to making carbohydrates 10-30% of your total daily calories. The keto diet decreases the amount of carbs you eat even further, to under 50 grams per day. For a 2000 calorie diet, that’s only 10% of the total daily calories.
A low carb or keto diet may help you lose weight, but may also cause side effects like headache and fatigue. I tried this at the beginning of my 90-Day Journey and DID NOT feel good (but I have seen it work for some people!). Restricting carbs means you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals from fruit, starchy vegetables, and grains.
For me, it’s about eating real food
Like I said before, I’m not planning my day around how many carbs I eat. I’ve had my fair share of letting the numbers control my life – calories, macros, my weight, etc. and it was just too much. I was obsessed and not actually enjoying my food.
Now, I just eat real food. I’m happier AND healthier.
So at a glance, it may look like my meals are light on carbs. That’s because you normally won’t see much pasta, bread, rice or sweets (except ice cream). Those things just make me feel BLAH. They’re not totally off-limits, but I don’t eat them on a daily basis. Instead, I fill my plates with fruits and veggies – which are still CARBS. They nourish my body, give me energy, and make me feel good.