CARBS 101

ROLES IN THE BODY

While carbohydrates (“carbs”) are not technically considered essential to metabolic functioning (there are essential amino acids and fatty acids but no known essential carbs), it’s generally considered unrealistic that a person will experience optimal health without consuming at least some carbohydrates. As far as the body’s use for energy/fuel, carbs (which are broken down to glucose in the body) are normally the primary, preferred source, ahead of fat (normally a secondary source of energy) and protein (normally a third-tier source of energy).


When carbohydrate intake is sufficiently restricted, the body first utilizes glycogen stores (a type of stored glucose). Once glycogen stores are sufficiently depleted, the body turns to fat (both stored fat and ingested fat) to use as energy. During this process (called ketosis), body fat stores are turned to ketones, and it is these ketones that are used for energy in place of glucose (triglycerides and free fatty acids are also used for energy, in addition to ketones). It is this last phenomenon that can cause significant reductions in weight and body fat, which has made low carb diets like The Ketogenic Diet, Atkins Diet, and lower carb versions of The Paleo Diet popular and effective weight loss approaches when implemented properly. [1]



DAILY RECOMMENDATIONS

The USDA’s carbohydrate recommendations are given through their caloric guidelines. Remember, for men 18 years of age and older, the USDA’s recommended caloric range is 2000-3200 cals/day. For women it’s 1600-2400 cals/day. The government’s recommendation is 45-65% of daily calories from carbs. So now we have to do some math to convert these numbers into grams per day. For men, on the low end we’re looking at 45% of 2000 cals, which is 900 cals from carbs. Then we divide this by 4 (remember, 4 cals per gram for carbs) to arrive at 225g of carbs a day. Get it? Instead of doing that again, I’ll just list the ranges we arrive at below…


For men: 225g (45% at 2000 cals) to 520g (65% at 3200 cals)

For women: 180g (45% at 1600 cals) to 390g (65% at 2400 cals)


Additionally, the USDA advises that adults consume a minimum of 130g of carbohydrates a day. So 180-520g of carbs a day, with a bare minimum of 130 grams. That’s the government’s word on it. [2-6]


But what do the so-called experts say? Well, that of course depends on the expert, and what sort of attitude that expert has toward carbohydrates. Clearly the government takes the high carb (and super high carb) position. On the other side of the spectrum we have advocates for ketogenic and Atkins-type diets, where lower carbohydrate intake is advised. So how many carbohydrates are advised for low (or lower) carb diets? It depends on a variety of factors, but generally less than 150 grams of net carbs a day. Net carbs are calculated by taking the grams of total carbs and subtracting the grams of fiber, since most nutritional labels still list fiber as a carbohydrate (even though I’ve contended it should be repositioned into its own macronutrient category). As far as lower carb diets are concerned, I’d break them down into 3 different classes…


Higher “low carb”: 100-150g net carbs/day

Moderate “low carb”: 50-100g net carbs/day

Low “low carb”: 0-50g net carbs/day*


*Most people at this level will consume at least 20-30g of net carbs a day, as even low calorie vegetables and certain high fat items (avocados, nuts & seeds) contain a nominal amount of carbohydrate per serving.


THE CASE FOR A LOWER CARBOHYDRATE DIET

(FOR MANY U.S. ADULTS AT LEAST)

In the spirit of uniformity, I would create a table like I created for dietary protein and fats, listing a selection of different ideal bodyweights, along with suggestions on how many net carbohydrates might be consumed for optimal health outcomes. However, with carbs it’s a little different. It’s my position that, in a healthy, active adult body, consuming moderately high amounts of net carbohydrates (150-350g a day) from healthy sources (ex. honey, most fruits, organic red wine, potatoes, winter squashes, quinoa, etc.) can be a perfectly healthy nutritional practice. HOWEVER (and it’s a fairly big however), American adults, on the whole…


1. Aren’t physically active (indicating less of a need for carbohydrates)

2. Already overconsume carbohydrates (indicating a need for a reduction in carbs, to balance macros)

3. Are overweight/overfat (indicating a need to reduce carbs and transition to ketosis to burn excess bodyfat)

4. Suffer from pancreatic insufficiency and disease (including diabetes), and the resultant dysregulated blood sugar and insulin issues that come with it (indicating a need to reduce overall carbohydrate intake)



5. Have compromised digestive systems- in part due to overuse of antibiotics- which sets the stage for acute or chronic gastrointestinal infection by common parasites and microbial pathogens like giardia, crypto, parasitic worms, candida, salmonella, shigella, e. coli, h. pylori and c. diff, among others.


Regarding #5, many of these pathogens feed on our body’s tissues, which causes inflammation (an underlying cause of many diseases). Some of these pathogens produce waste material which can also contribute to inflammation and toxemia. Additionally, many of these same pathogens feed primarily on sugar (which indicates a need to reduce carbohydrate consumption). If the immune system can’t handle these pathogens AND there aren’t appropriate anti-parasitic or other anti-microbial agents introduced into the body to kill them AND they have access to an abundant food supply (excess carbohydrates) they WILL proliferate and continue to wreak havoc on the body. [7-8]


While everything in health and science is debatable and nearly every issue has people on both sides of the argument, I think the evidence is compelling that excess carbohydrate consumption has been a notable contributing factor to increases in diseases like obesity, diabetes, gut dysbiosis and GI issues, and even conditions like arthritis/joint pain, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.



But why the widespread overconsumption of carbohydrates? Here are some reasons…


1. The aforementioned bad dietary advice from the government


2. We have parasites and pathogenic microbial overload in our guts and bodies. These disease-causing critters often crave carbohydrates, and their cravings influence our cravings.

3. We have intestinal inflammation and malabsorption, which leaves us undernourished- so we overeat, in an effort to feel nourished (“overfed and undernourished”)

4. We have macronutrient imbalances (insufficient fiber, protein and fat intake), which leaves us more vulnerable to overeating carbs

5. We have micronutrient deficiencies and imbalances, including deficiencies in micronutrients that play a vital role in our energy levels and blood sugar control (including b vitamins, sodium, potassium, chromium, iodine, and iron)

6. We have thyroid and adrenal problems that leave us struggling with low energy and chronic fatigue. We turn to carbs (and more carbs) to give us an energy boost, when what we really need is a customized, comprehensive program to restore endocrine balance.

7. Carbs are DELICIOUS! And of course many of us are trying to use a comfort food (in this case, foods high in sugars and/or starches) to medicate spiritual, mental, emotional and/or social problems.


I’m sharing this information to make a major point- while working toward macronutrient balance using healthy beverages and foods is an essential piece of an effective nutritional approach, it isn’t the only piece for many people. Utilizing nutritional supplements (and in some cases other medical interventions) may be needed in order to dramatically improve digestive system functioning, reduce systemic inflammation, promote hormone balance, and combat parasitic or other pathogenic infection in the gut or elsewhere in the body.


SIMPLE CARBS VS COMPLEX CARBS

Molecularly speaking, carbohydrates (like fats) are composed of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. There are two different kinds of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are shorter chain sugar molecules and include monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, galactose) and disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, lactose). Complex carbohydrates are longer chain sugar molecules and include oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (which includes starch). [9]



Simple carbohydrates are general easier to digest and absorb than complex carbohydrates. Given that, I generally advise individuals wanting to lose unhealthy weight and/or “starve” intestinal parasites or other microbial pathogens choose high simple carbohydrate items (like natural sweeteners [honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.], beets, carrots, most fruits, etc.) over complex carbohydrate items (potatoes, winter squashes, corn, peas, beans and gluten free grains).


This approach can assist in keeping the metabolism optimized through easier digestion. Additionally, a habit of consuming high simple carb items over high complex carb items can help a ketogenic dieter from getting “knocked out of ketosis” for extended periods of time, as complex carbs generally take the body longer to break down and utilize than simple carbs do.


TO SUM UP!

In short, carbohydrates are an important dietary nutrient and are used by the body as a primary energy source. That said, overconsumption of carbohydrates has been implicated as a primary (if not THE primary) dietary cause of obesity and can also contribute to a whole host of disease conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis. Lowering carbohydrate intake (such as is done on ketogenic/carb-restricted diets) may help to reduce chronic inflammation, rejuvenate the pancreas, balance blood sugar levels, balance hormone levels, and drop unhealthy weight and body fat.



Many American adults wanting to lose excess weight (or combat diabetes, epilepsy, or gastrointestinal infection) would likely be well-served to keep daily net carbohydrate levels between 25-150 grams a day. The USDA’s recommendation of 200-500 grams of carbohydrates per day is likely too high for the average American adult, and may only be appropriate for an adult individual who already possesses a healthy digestive system, a high metabolism, a healthy weight and body fat percentage, and has significant amounts of physical activity in his or her daily life.


SOURCES

1www.ruled.me/ketosis-ketones-and-how-it-works/

2https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/dietary-guidelines/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015

3www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/8_Macronutrient%20Summary.pdf?la=en

4www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usda_food_patterns/EstimatedCalorieNeedsPerDayTable.pdf

5www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2002/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Energy-Carbohydrate-Fiber-Fat-Fatty-Acids-Cholesterol-Protein-and-Amino-Acids.aspx

6https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-7/

7https://scdlifestyle.com/2014/04/3-common-gut-infections/

8www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/clostridium-difficile-an-intestinal-infection-on-the-rise

9www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/Carbohydrates.htm