Carbs are number 3 in my diet after I set my daily protein and fat intake. A lot of experts claim carbs aren’t necessary, but they’re wrong. Metabolism, thyroid, muscle and liver glycogen, feel good chemicals, brain fuel (to think straight), and hormones go down the drain on chronic low carb diets. Many of these problems can be avoided by getting in at least 100 grams a day. This is the sweet spot for most people that don’t exercise. Since I exercise every day I burn through a decent amount in addition to the amount I need to maintain normal functioning. Right now at my caloric level of 2200, carbs are around 150-220 grams a day. Michael Phelps could eat around 600-700 grams of carbs a day and be healthy. As you can tell carbs definitely are NOT stagnant like protein and fat, they depend heavily on exercise and total daily calories.
Many low carb experts recommend under 50 grams a day to lose weight and I use to follow these diets, but this is really bad advice (especially if you exercise and lift weights). Eating under 50 grams a day works well for a very limited period of time and after that the metabolism basically shuts down. Low carb diets mimic starvation due to the minimal effects they have on insulin. The problem is, if insulin is shut down for too long, then many metabolic problems start to arise and the body actually starts to store fat.
Low carb experts bash carbs, but the references they cite are always based on high carb diets (extreme examples to exaggerate their point). The experts also don’t distinguish between sugary sodas and complex carbs such as starches, which interact completely differently in the body. Their biggest problem is skipping MIDDLE GROUND. They show that 500 carbs a day is bad for most people, so 50 grams or lower must be the answer. (Wait what?) A little newsflash, you can eat carbs without eating a high carb diet. I agree that high carb diets (300-500grams a day) may be bad for some people, but what about an optimal level of carbs (100-150g a day)? These experts don’t understand middle ground and grossly exaggerate their research with extreme cases. The point is if you need 100 grams of carbs a day, then why do they recommend eating below 50 grams?
How do you reap the benefits of carbs without all the negatives? Eat what you need, pretty simple advice. This is why I eat a balanced diet everyday and have stopped eating all these unnecessary restrictive diets. If you need a certain amount of carbs, proteins and fats everyday to avoid long term health problems, then why restrict any of these macros? Depending on who you ask many people consider 100-150grams of carbs to be a low carb diet and others extremely high and out of the question (Atkins), but I consider it an optimal carb diet. Its the perfect amount to reap the benefits, while avoiding all the long term negatives of going below 100 grams a day. Take a look at the benefits below, all of these vanish on long term very low carb diets (100g and under). Why would anyone want these benefits to disappear? – They wouldn’t so make sure to keep it above 100g and enjoy your carbs. Here is a list of benefits that carbs provide:
- Metabolism – Controlled largely by glucose (starches)
- Liver health – liver needs glucose to function properly
- Enhanced fat burning – Leptin – related to insulin and carbs. Long term very low carb diets repress this hormone.
- Increased hormones and testosterone
- Increased muscle – muscle loss occurs if carbs drop too low
- Increase immune function
- Maintain and enhances thyroid
- Prevents vitamin deficiency
- Insulin sensitive – Become insulin resistant on long term low carb diets
- Increased cognitive capacity – need a certain amount of carbs to think straight
Bottom line: Carbs are highly individual based on exercise. If you are sedentary and trying to lose weight keep it around 100 grams a day to keep metabolism going. If you are bodybuilder trying to gain muscle, your needs may be 4-500 grams or higher everyday. Just make sure to never “follow experts advice” and dip below 50 grams for any long period of time.