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The ins and outs of carbs

Ashley Lucas

It’s true that to drop weight, decreasing carbohydrates will help you to be successful. However, this macronutrient is often misunderstood. It isn’t that carbohydrates are bad for you, but rather that the type, and the amount that you consume will make a difference.

A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients including fats and proteins. Macronutrients provide energy for our body. When digesting a carbohydrate, your body turns it into glucose (sugar) to use for energy.

Not every carbohydrate is created equal. There are two types of carbohydrates: fast acting and slow acting. The fast-acting variety includes foods such as grains, breads, fruits and sugars. These types of foods will lead to a spike in your blood glucose levels beyond what your body can use for energy. In response, your body will try to use what it can, and anything left over is more likely to be stored as fat for later. Slow-acting carbohydrates are different. Your body processes these carbohydrates gradually over a prolonged period, providing more consistent energy throughout the day. Eating slow-acting carbohydrates will help you to feel more full, and also provide your body with more nutrients and more fiber. These carbs are sourced from many vegetables and leafy greens.

Fiber is the roughage, or bulk, part of a carbohydrate that your gut can’t digest. It remains intact as it passes through your gut. The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber encourages movement of matter through your digestive system to promote healthy stools. Eating carbohydrates high in fiber will help to lower the impact of carbohydrates on your blood sugar.

Recently, in the dieting world, there has been a new craze seen all over food labels – “net carbs.” The dangerous claim behind this is that not all carbohydrates count. Net carbs are the result of subtracting the total fiber and sugar alcohols, from the total carbohydrate count. There are several problems with this approach. The first issue is that there is no legal regulation of the definition of “net carbs.” The FDA only regulates what is listed on the nutrition facts of a food label. Another issue is that many sugar alcohols will still lead to a spike in your blood sugar. Lastly, even if a food is advertised as low in “net carbs,” it can still be calorically dense. For these reasons it is important to always calculate and/or consider the total carbohydrates listed in the nutrition facts of a food label to understand how a food will affect your body.

So, how many carbohydrates should you be getting in a day? When it comes to daily carbohydrate counts, it isn’t as easy as “one size fits all.” Every person has a specific tolerance for the amount of carbohydrates they can consume in a day without gaining weight. While the average person may be able to consume around 80 to 150 grams of carbohydrates a day and maintain a healthy weight, many Americans today suffer from a “depressed” carbohydrate tolerance. If you have ever had trouble with stubborn weight gain, specifically in your belly, you may fall into this category. For these people, consuming 50 to 80 grams a day of carbohydrates will likely be more beneficial to keep from continued weight gain. By counting your daily carbohydrate intake and tracking your weight, you will be able to find the right amount of carbohydrates to consume for your body.

So don’t fear carbohydrates, but rather, get the right type and amount for your body. Eat a balanced, whole foods diet, rich in fibrous vegetables, clean proteins and healthy fats, and you’ll feel great!

Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.