Complexity of Carbohydrates
A guide to facilitate progress toward your goals
Protein and Fats are a priority in our quest to optimize human potential. They are essential nutrients that we cannot produce in our bodies. If this isn’t at the forefront of your mind when making nutritional choices go back and check out the past week’s articles on Protein and Fats. As always let me know in the comments if you have questions!
Finally, we land on the third macronutrient. Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) are not essential macronutrients. Our body can produce glucose via the liver in a process called gluconeogenesis. This means that even if we don’t have dietary carbohydrates our body still produces enough glucose for metabolism.
Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t or don’t need to be eating any carbohydrates but rather this gives us an idea of the priority of macronutrients in our diet. For many people, carbs such as bread, pasta, and, sugar make up a large portion of their daily calories. How would our ancestors have prioritized their macronutrients?
In the lens of evolution, there is a good reason why humans and other carnivorous/omnivorous animals do not need dietary carbohydrates to survive. For animals that live in seasonal climates, there are certain times of the year when fruits and vegetables are plentiful (summer into fall). Therefore, for the vast majority of the year, there was no substantial source of carbohydrates. Humans in these climates would have survived the winter eating animal products and burning the fat they accumulated if they had an abundance of carbohydrates the previous fall.
In modern society, we recommend that people consume 2-300+ grams of carbohydrates every single day. Our ancestors even on a good week couldn’t have sustained that many carbs every day of the year.
How could we reprioritize our consumption of carbs to promote optimal health?
Are Carbs good or bad?
In the past few years, there has been a push in the health and fitness community to reduce the number of carbohydrates in our diets. As with fats, this has been a topic of debate for proponents of carnivorous/ketogenic dieters and others who follow high carb or macro counting based diets.
Carbs much like Protein and Fat are not overall good or bad for our health. As long as we are choosing high-quality foods at a volume that aligns with our goals then there is still room for these in our diet.
With our ancestors in mind, we can conclude as to which carbohydrates may suit our goals the best. As I discussed above humans for most of our history have only eaten carbs seasonally. For hunter-gatherers, there was no other option until the agricultural and industrial eras presented themselves (roughly 10,000 years ago).
Modern society presents a unique challenge being that we can consume natural foods out of season as well as unnatural mono-crops (corn, soy, grains, etc) year-round.
Therefore, carbs are not inherently good or bad for most humans. We should be choosing high-quality sources and equating the volume to meet our goals. Keep reading to see how this may apply to you!
How do your goals dictate the volume and type of carbs you eat?
Person A has the goal of losing weight to optimize their body composition and minimize symptoms of/prevent chronic diseases. They have started to strength train a few times a week, however, their profession leaves them sitting most of the day.
Person B has a goal of optimizing their body composition but they don’t have much body fat to lose. They work out 5 days per week and are very focused on optimizing their health to prevent disease and maintain their current level of fitness.
Person C is a younger human who strength-trains 4 days a week and plays competitive sports year-round. Athletic Performance and building muscle mass are their main priority.
For all of these clients, we will first optimize their protein and fat consumption based on the information we discussed in previous weeks.
Person A is going to keep their carbohydrates to 20% of their total daily calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, this would be 100g or less.
Person B will land their carbohydrate intake into the 20-30% range. Based on 2,000 calories this would put them in the 100-150g range per day.
Person C will have the most room for carbs in their diet making up 30-40% of their daily intake of 150-200g.
These are simply estimates based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Everyone is going to be slightly different due to their goals and current body composition. A general rule of thumb is for those looking to lose a larger amount of weight should aim for 100g or less per day, those who are in a maintenance stage or have less weight to lose will be somewhere between 100-150g, and athletes or humans who spend a large amount of time exercising can be in the 150-200g range.
High Quality vs Low-Quality Carbohydrates
Regardless of your goals the type of carbs you are consuming matters. For years we have been fed the governmental food pyramid which suggests that we should be consuming 6 servings of whole grains every day. I hope that with the information I have provided today and over the past few weeks you can see where this is not going to promote optimal human performance. If you are confused, sit tight because I will do an article in the future about agriculture and how food products have taken us away from our ancestral roots.
Below is a list of eat more, eat some, and eat less. While you are constructing your meals if you align more with person A and B you should be sticking mostly with the eat more list. Person C will have room for the eat-some list. We should all be striving to stay away from the eat less list in our day-to-day meals!
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Eat Some Fruit and Vegetables
Eat Less Vegetables and Starchy Carbs
Nuts & seeds
Rethinking how we enjoy our Carbs
I am positive I will get a lot of questions about some of the reasons for the placement of carbs into their respective categories above. It will be a hard pill to swallow for some, however, I am confident that for most people you will feel better if you stick to the eat more/some list and avoid the eat less. Your body will no doubt thank you.
This doesn’t mean that we can never eat foods off of the eat less list (I do occasionally as well). I want you to strive to not make these foods the majority of your meals.
If you take the time to reprioritize the way you consume carbs you will find more satisfaction with the foods you are consuming as well as finding that the carbs you were used to consuming were not serving you the way you thought they were.
Take home message
Carbs are not the enemy…but they can be if they are low quality
Eat most of your Carbs from Quality Fruits and Vegetables
Determine your Carbs based on your goals
Next Weeks Article: Ancestral Eating: Tying everything together
Movement is Medicine. Food Is Fuel.
One Day or Day One the Choice is Yours
Andrew Cataldo CSCS