Part Two: How To Include Carbs Into Your Diet.

First off, I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving. While you all know I endorse a Paleo lifestyle, I will admit that I myself ate my fair share of carbs last Thursday—and lived to tell the tale. Hopefully my last newsletter helped you to understand important role carbohydrates play in both physical and mental health. But an informed decision to include this macronutrient into your balanced diet is only the first step. Now, the questions you're probably asking are: which carbs are the healthiest? How can I incorporate them into my diet with maximum results? And finally, how do I know what exactly what my carb-intake should be? This last question is perhaps the most important, as a lot of people tend to mentally misconstrue how much of a certain food group they are ingesting. Do you know what are the recommended daily allotments of carbohydrates for someone of your age and weight? Have you ever kept track of the grams or percentage of calories you are receiving from carbs? 

As I explained in part-1 of this 2-part series on carbohydrates, something as basic as carb-intake can have an effect on health conditions from depression and lethargy to digestive upset and athletic performance. Keeping a balanced diet is undeniably one of our most valuable roots to good health. So, I have written the following newsletter to expose just which carbohydrate-containing foods offer the most benefits, like increased energy, healthier sleep patterns, etc., and I have included an easy process to help you calculate your own individual, optimum carb-intake based on health conditions, exercise level, age, weight and other factors, so that you can all get the most health benefits out of your diet.

If you’ve been shying away from carbohydrates until now, I’m guessing that’s because you think they make you gain weight. And that’s true—in some cases. If you generally eat very low amounts of carbs but binge on pizza or bread every once in a while, you will probably find that these slip-ups do add on some pounds. Don’t blame carbohydrates as a whole though; blame the refined and processed carbs that constitute America’s favorite junk foods. Carbs must be incorporated into a diet strategically and thoughtfully in order to avoid the harmful side effects that can result from ingesting certain refined carbs, like sugar and white flour. Following are some charts of diet-friendly foods and the amount of carbs (in grams) they contain. If you want to know more about which carb-containing foods to keep and which to toss, take a look at the November newsletter (click here). 

The moral of the story is that, when you’re choosing which carbohydrates to eat, please choose carefully; i.e. go for fruit, not chips. 

Knowing which carbs to eat is only half the work though. The next step is figuring out how much of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates—something that will ultimately be a result of personal factors and preferences. The following information is meant to help you customize your own diet in a way that can have you feeling your best; it just takes a little diligence and patience.

Step 1 is to assess what percentage of carbs will work best with your life-style and weight goals. First, look at any diseases or health conditions you may be suffering from. For example, if you have diabetes or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, you are going to want to start off in the low-carb category. If you have adrenal fatigue, are breastfeeding, or are a moderate to heavy exerciser, you’ll probably want to start at a moderate carb level. There are many other conditions that can affect how well your body receives carbs, so please be sure to assess your overall health when deciding what amount of carbs might work best for you. If you have multiple conditions that require opposite amounts of carbs, you should consider working personally with a practitioner. 

If you don’t have a condition that places you in a particular spot on the carb-intake spectrum, the best place to start is with a moderate carb diet. I suggest keeping a food diary in order to keep track of any symptom regression/improvement. Ultimately, the best indicator of carb-intake is how you feel, e.g. good, bloated, weak, etc.. Based on this diary, you can experiment by increasing and decreasing your carb percentage until you find a level that benefits you the most.

Step 2 is to figure out how many calories you should be eating each day from carbohydrates. If you know what your daily calorie-intake should be, simply multiply it by your target-percentage of carbohydrates. The following chart details what percentages constitute which carb-levels (low, moderate, high), as well as which populations would benefit most from each level:

 If you are unsure how many calories you should be consuming each day, you may want to search the web for an online calorie calculator. Otherwise, 2000 is a reasonable number to start with. So if you want 20% of your calories to come from carbs, multiply .20 x 2000 = 400. This is the number of calories you should be getting each day from carbohydrates. If you don’t feel like counting calories you can divide this number by 4 to figure out how many grams of carbohydrates you should be eating each day. 400 / 4 = 100g of carbs a day. Based on the first few charts, we see this goal can be met by eating a banana and an apple between meals, ½ a head of romaine lettuce in a salad for lunch, and a sweet potato with dinner, for example. 

If this process sounds a little too mathematical to you, you can also use the basic rule of thirds, which requires your plate to be 1/3 protein, 1/3 starch, and 1/3 low-carb vegetables and tubers. Following this rule will put you somewhere near the moderate-carb level.

I would like to stress that the diet calculation process as a whole is somewhat imprecise and for most, it will take some experimenting. Start in a moderate position unless you have one of the aforementioned health conditions, see how you feel, and adjust your carb-intake from there. My final advice is to please give each stage of your experimenting a fair amount time for your body to acclimate. If you eat only 10%-15% of calories from carbohydrates and you start feeling sluggish, have a harder time shedding that last pound or two of fat, or aren’t sleeping as well, you might need to consider slightly raising your carb-level. If you’re eating 30% or more of calories from carbs and you notice weight gain or digestive upset, you should consider a moderate or low-carb diet.

Remember: patience is key. There’s no miracle diet or one-size-fits-all approach. But, if you do give your diet the time and attention it deserves, the results should be well worth it.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.