Macronutrient Series: Carbohydrates
Photo by Monika Grabkowska from Unsplash
This is part 2 of my 3-part series covering the three macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. If you haven’t checked out part 1 on protein, find it here. This part will be covering carbohydrates!
Carbs are perhaps the trickiest of the macronutrients to figure out! Between all the articles on sugar addictions and suggestions to go low-carb, it can make even the most health conscious of us pause before diving into the quinoa.
But the more and more I learn about the carbs, the less complicated I think the approach needs to be for someone who isn’t already suffering from a chronic condition or a sugar-related health issue. If you are otherwise healthy, first focus on breaking your addiction to sugar and re-training your taste buds and brain. And then focus on eating carbs in a way that keeps your blood sugar balanced throughout the day.
Before I go into how to get started, first a little history lesson: Way before grocery stores and markets, we had to hunt and gather like all other animals. Because carbohydrates covert to glucose and are the main source of energy for our bodies, we would naturally gravitate towards sugar sources like fruit and honey. However, think of how available these sources are in nature vs. your local supermarket. Yeah, very different.
But our brains and taste buds have not caught up. Combine this with the fact that our brains are hardwired to think a famine is always around the corner (so we better stock up on that energy), that government subsidies have caused a glut of carbohydrates sources – mostly, corn, soy and wheat – to be on the market, and that scientists trying to sell these carbs have come up with ways to get us to eat even more (hello high fructose corn syrup), and you can see how we have ended up with a REAL problem.
So what’s a person in 2017 to do?? Every person has a different carb intake that will be optimal for their health, and if you are really struggling, consider working with a nutritionist or other healthcare provider to pinpoint your optimal level. But here are some steps you can take starting tomorrow!
1. Give up unhealthy sugars for good.
A sugar fast can be a great way to break a sugar addiction and reset your taste buds and brains. As part of a sugar fast, you should give up both refined sugars like white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sugars, and natural sugars such as honey, large servings of fruit, juice, dates, and maple syrup. You can do this for a week or longer depending on your experience.
However, after the fast, I recommend that my clients adopt a lifestyle that does not regularly include refined and artificial sugars. Sure, the occasional treat should be part of your life, but as a general rule, just give up these sugars!
2. Get your carbohydrates from whole food sources.
The majority of your carbohydrates should come from whole food sources. This will help you consume healthy levels and keep your blood sugar stable (preventing crashes and sugar cravings).
Reach for whole foods like legumes, grains, crunchy and starchy vegetables, dairy, and fruit in moderation (1-2 servings/day). If you do not tolerate certain legumes, grains, or dairy, exclude those sources. And if you can, eat your legumes and grains soaked, fermented and/or sprouted. If you eat natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, keep these minimal and to 1 teaspoon per serving.
You should also aim for 30-50 grams of fiber, and if you are reaching for lots of vegetables, legumes and whole grains, this should not be hard to achieve.
3. Adjust your carbohydrate serving size for your body, life stage and activity level.
Just as with protein, everyone has a different optimal carbohydrate intake and that optimal level can even change for a person over time. As a starting point, I recommend 30-45 grams per meal and up to 20 grams per snack for someone who does not have sugar imbalance issues. If you are trying to lose weight, aim for less. If you try this level and still have energy issues after a period of adjustment, add more.
BONUS: What is my personal approach to carbohydrates?
Due to personal sensitivities, I do not eat legumes (except chickpeas and lentils) or many grains (I eat quinoa, brown/wild rice and the occasional wheat-containing product), and I minimize white potatoes (nightshade). Therefore, on a weekly basis my carbohydrates come from vegetables including sweet potatoes, sprouted quinoa, sprouted lentils, sprouted brown rice, wild rice, chickpeas, some fruit, some protein bars, and the occasional treat with natural sweeteners.
I add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of one of these carb sources or a mix to each meal, and I have found that this serves me well for having optimal energy levels without sugar highs and crashes.