The Carbohydrate Issue
There is huge debate in nutrition and medical circles regarding the necessity for, and amount of carbohydrate people need. For most, it is the fuel used to run their bodies and for many reducing carbohydrate consumption radically, or even choosing to eat no carbohydrates at all leaves them with barely enough strength and energy to get out of bed and function on a daily basis. At the other end of the spectrum, those who consume too many carbohydrates (yes, even those ‘good’ carbohydrates) for their body’s specific needs find themselves struggling with issues including mood, weight, energy, digestion and immunity to name a few. In my experience, understanding your individual carbohydrate needs becomes important to establish and maintain best health and energy functioning.
The questions then becomes how do you locate your carbohydrate middle ground? What signs and symptoms need to be carefully watched and listened to in order to locate your personal daily needs? Paying such close attention to your body can pose a huge challenge to begin with, but this is truly a case of practice makes perfect. With a little time and effort it will be easy to hear the wants and needs of your body, allowing you to truly nourish, rather than mindlessly feeding it.
Energy levels are an easy litmus test when wondering if your carbohydrate consumption is sufficient. Determining if carbohydrate consumption is excessive is a little more complex. Here are my top indicators that you may benefit from a reduction in your consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods
Identifying with more than 1 of these statements could imply you are eating more carbohydrates than your system needs or can handle.
- You gain weight easily despite a diet of seemingly wholesome and healthy whole grains, legumes and fruit.
- Your weight fluctuates easily.
- You tend to gain weight more around the middle then around the bottom.
- You feel tired after meals.
- You frequently crave sweets or starchy and carbohydrate dense foods.
- You experience ‘brain fog’, particularly after meals.
- You struggle to control your sugar consumption.
- You have energy peaks and dips throughout the day, or a marked energy dip in the mid-afternoon.
- You feel light-headed, irritable and agitated when you are hungry.
- You turn to sweets or carbohydrate-rich foods as energy pick-me-ups or comfort foods when feeling tired, depressed, nervous or anxious.
The best way to begin addressing these negative consequences is to make a commitment to do something about your carbohydrate consumption. Paying attention to how your body reacts and responds to each step of the process is important in determining your personal needs.
Your first order of business is to remove overly sweet, highly processed, starchy, white, refined foods from your diet.
If this is a path you have already followed, your next step is to remove all grains (including, but definitely not limited to wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye, corn, rice), legumes and higher sugar fruits. You may be able to handle a limited amount of lower sugar fruits such as berries, but monitoring how you feel and how your body reacts are the only true determinants of your tolerance.
Stress, sleep, exercise, and other factors can all affect your tolerance, so it will become important to determine your personal level. You may be able to enjoy a greater amount of whole grains and higher sugar fruits on days when you know your stress levels will be lower, but avoid them when you know work and/or life are creating stressful moments. Starchy vegetables may feel wonderful on those days where your sleep has been optimal, and vegetables that grow above the ground may suit you better if you know your energy levels are lacking. Becoming acutely aware of how your carbohydrate consumption is interacting with the daily ebb and flow of your life will make you the driver and creator of your carbohydrate balance. You will slowly become more aware and able to zero in on the carb balance that makes you feel energetic, calm and craving-free.
If the task of incrementally monitoring your feelings and reactions seems overwhelming, it may be simpler and easier for you to eliminate all foods particularly rich or dense in carbohydrates for a few weeks and determine how you feel at that point. You can then begin to slowly re-incorporate them into your diet to determine your tolerance and needs.
Reducing and eliminating those foods from your diet when they have formed a large part of your eating plan can be a challenge. Luckily, I have a few suggestions to make that path a little easier to navigate:
- Make a commitment and do it! No excuses! Remove all sugars and grains for two weeks, including brown rice, corn, oats, and even quinoa.
- Eat more green leafy vegetables along with those that grow above the ground. They will fill you up and provide your body with the vital nutrients and fiber it needs to function optimally.
- Enjoy good servings of healthy fats. Think coconut oil, cold pressed olive oil and nuts and seeds. These too will provide satiety and an alternative source of energy for your body.
- Exercise and move your body daily. Carbohydrate tolerance will be higher if your body is given the vigorous movement it evolved to need. A sedentary lifestyle and a diet too high in carbohydrates burden your body twice over!
You’ll have the best chance of discovering your healthiest level of carbohydrates if you are getting enough food, good alternatives as an energy source and creating space for movement in your life! Allow your grain-free, sugar-free experience help guide you towards finding the right carbohydrate level for you!