How Much Carbs Should You Really Be Eating?

Eat too many carbs, and your cravings — not to mention, your midsection — will increase. Eat too few of them, however, and find that you’ll find that your mood and energy levels suffer.

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So what’s the golden number? How many carbs should you be eating?

Are You Eating Too Many Carbs?

The recommended daily allowance for carbohydrates is a minimum of 130 grams for both adults and children. But one size does not fit all, and what works for one person won’t work for another. If you’re seeking performance and lean muscles, you’ll need to find out if you’re eating the optimal amount of how many carbs for your body.

If you’re taking in more carbs than you can handle, your body may give you some of the following clues:

  1. You feel like you’re on an energy roller coaster throughout the day.
  2. You eat and crave baked goods, especially when you’re stressed.
  3. You feel hungry soon after a meal or snack.
  4. You have stubborn fat around your midsection and you can’t seem to lose it.
  5. You have a tough time controlling yourself around sugary and starchy foods.

Eating too many carbs can have negative consequences on your overall health, so what about avoiding carbs altogether? Not so fast.

Role Of Carbs In The Body

Carbs provide fuel to your cells, giving your body the raw energy it needs before and after a workout.

Plant foods, which are richest in complex carbs, contain a range of vitamins and minerals that are essential to health. They contain fibre, which helps you feel full and supports gut health.

In addition, carbs also have an impact on your moods, as they act as a precursor to serotonin, your body’s feel-good neurotransmitter.

In an effort to lose weight fast, many people severely limit their carb intake. Eating less than 50 grams of carbs per day will push your body into ketosis. This state can effectively treat certain conditions, like metabolic syndrome, diabetes and PCOS, to name a few. A ketogenic diet will also help you to shed extra weight, but it is generally not recommended for long term. (If you’re considering a ketogenic diet, be sure to do so under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.)

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

There are two types of carbs: fast-releasing (also known as simple) and slow-releasing (also known as complex).

Fast-releasing, simple carbs have just one to two sugar molecules linked together, which means that your body can quickly break down these molecules into glucose. Fast-releasing carbs, like those found in sugar, honey and baked goods, can cause that energy roller coaster when their sugar high wears off. These types of carbs are also used by athletes to replace sugars lost during long endurance-type workouts. Too much of this type of carb is not ideal, as it can contribute to weight gain (especially around the midsection).

Fruit is also technically a simple carb, but because of its vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fibre, does not have the same effect on the body as sugar and baked goods.

Slow-releasing, complex carbs, on the other hand, consist of many sugar molecules linked together. For this reason, they are broken down by the body more slowly. Examples of slow releasing carbs include beans and legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits — in other words, plant-based foods. These foods are rich in fibre and other antioxidant compounds that help to prevent against disease and aid longevity.

Even fatty plant foods, like avocadoes and nuts and seeds contain even low levels of complex carbs. 

Carbs Boost Athletic Performance

Carbohydrate foods can help to boost athletic performance.

Actress Olivia Munn has made starchy vegetables cool again. She’s credited Japanese potatoes with keeping her joints healthy while training for X-Men. The potatoes are said to boost hyaluronic acid in the body, which not only nourishes joints and protects against wear and tear, but also keeps skin looking youthful. These potatoes have been a staple of the people of the Yuzurihara village in Japan, where inhabitants eat plenty of starchy vegetables, are slim, and routinely live past 85. 

Let Thy Hand Be Thy Measure

Carbohydrates are a good thing – it’s just a matter of eating the right kinds, in the right amount. Your ideal carbohydrate intake will take many things into consideration, including age, body composition and current metabolic health. There are currently no science-based ways to measure your ideal carb intake. So where do you begin?

The best, and most “scientific” way to measure your carbs, in the author’s opinion, is to let your hand be your measure. Use your clenched fist to measure the appropriate serving of carbs for a meal or serving of fruit. This works because your hand is naturally proportionate to the rest of your body and can help you choose the appropriate portion of carbs for your body.

Some other tips:

  • Choose slow burning, complex carbs (typically plant foods) and ditch processed, baked goods and sugary treats altogether.
  • Add some protein to your plate, and fill the rest with leafy greens, like kale.
  • You don’t need to eat carbohydrates at every single meal – even non-starchy vegetables (think asparagus, mushrooms and cauliflower) and fatty plant foods (avocados) contain small amounts of carbs.
  • Limit fruit to two to three servings per day
  • Slightly increase your daily amount carbs if you’re very active; reduce this amount if you’re trying to lose weight. Monitor how you feel, and adjust your carb intake as needed.