There are many myths, and much misinformation surrounding carbohydrates. We all need carbohydrates in our diet, and to varying degrees, depending on the individual. Cutting out and drastically reducing carbohydrates, as is advocated by many diet books and programs is both unsustainable and unhealthy. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ primary fuel and energy source, and are stored in the muscle or liver as glycogen, along with some water. Glycogen serves as a backup fuel for emergency purposes, periods of low carbohydrate intake, and periods where you are engaged in prolonged periods of intense exercise. Carbohydrates have a primary effect on our blood sugar levels, energy, cognitive function, are a key source of vitamins and minerals you can’t get from other foods, regulate and maintain thyroid output, great source of fiber contributing to health and regular bowel movements, and lead to the production of insulin from the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Carbohydrates, notably effect metabolism, as they help regulate thyroid production and output, which significantly impacts fat loss both long and short term.
From a fat loss perspective, low carb diets should never be followed as they do not provide sufficient energy required for intense exercise (which we all need to lose weight), as well as creating low thyroid output (a sluggish metabolism) over the long term. Neither of these scenarios are conducive to fat loss. As a starting point, 30-50 % of your dietary intake should be coming from carbohydrates, with the recommendation being on the higher end of 40-50 % for the majority of people. To achieve sustainable weight loss you need AT LEAST a moderate amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Short term weight loss from low carb diets rarely comes from actual fat, with the weight loss in the form of glycogen loss ( stored carbs) coming from the muscles and corresponding loss of water weight that comes from glycogen.
Do not be deceived from the proverbial “scale weight” you lose in the first week of low carb dieting. While this shows up as loss on the scale, this is NOT actual fat loss. Another benefit of carbohydrates is that they are a dense, heavy, and filling food which are relatively low in calories. 1 medium sized potato without any extras has about 150 calories, and along with lean protein and veggies will fill you up and provide you with sustained energy.
Eating foods that are dense, heavy, and lower in calories are great from a fat loss standpoint. You take in less calories, but always feel satisfied and full throughout the day, because you take in a lot of food in actual weight. Compare this to refined carbohydrates like cookies, chips, or chocolate bars that are light in weight and high in calories. By eating these foods you never feel full, and take in an inordinate amount of calories
Carbohydrates need to be complex in nature, and should rarely come from refined sugars, salt, artificial preservatives and man-made ingredients. Great sources of carbohydrates include oats, yam, potatoes, brown rice, brown pasta, whole grain and whole wheat bread, quinoa, lentils, fruit, etc.
To summarize the benefits and guidelines for carbohydrates:
- They provide you with the energy needed for day to day activities, and fuel intense exercise.
- They keep you full for long periods of time, and are dense which provide you with satiation.
- They optimize thyroid function and output, ensuring you have a healthy level of thyroid hormone, keeping metabolism high.
- Provide you with vitamins and minerals not found in other foods.
- They need to be between 30-50 % of your daily dietary intake. This will range anywhere from 130-250 grams depending on your weight, height, age, gender, etc.
Remember to lose weight sustainably, while maintaining great health and energy, carbohydrates are a must in your diet.