What are carbs?
Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are nutrients required by the body for functioning. They are considered macronutrients (macros) because the body needs greater amounts of these nutrients (versus micronutrients like vitamins). Carbs provide energy for the body.1
Carbs can be either complex or simple. Complex carbs have more sugar molecules linked together, which take longer for the body to process. As a result, complex carbs supply energy in a steady, balanced way. Simple carbs with less sugar molecules quickly deliver a brief burst of energy.1
The body converts carbs into the following forms of energy: glucose, glycogen, or fat. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy whereas glycogen is the extra glucose that the body stores for future use. Excess carbs that cannot be utilized right away or stowed for later become fat.1
Are carbs good for me?
Fat does not sound good to most, so you may wonder if carbs are even good for you. The answer is yes and no. Some carbs are beneficial while other carbs are not. The type and quantity of carbs matters when it comes to deciding what is good.
The right kind of carbs are both essential and helpful. The body needs a certain amount of carbs to generate enough energy for daily activities and basic life functions like breathing and growing. The various forms of carbs can aid in specific processes like digestion as well as contribute to satiation and overall health.1
Which carbs are better?
When you make better choices, carbs can work for you. They can assist you in reaching your health and nutritional goals rather than hinder you.
Carbs come in three forms: fiber, starch, and sugar. Fiber and starch are complex carbs. Sugar is a simple carb.1
Complex carbs are better than simple carbs. Grains, legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, and peas) and vegetables naturally contain fiber and starch. Many fruits also contain fiber.1
Not all grains are the same either. Grains can be whole or refined (processed). Whole grains are a better choice because they contain more nutrients like fiber.1
When it comes to simple carbs, the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and milk is better than added sugar. Added sugars (e.g., brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses, etc.) may enhance the flavor of foods, but they come with lots of calories and no nutritional value. The sweet seduction of added sugar can sabotage your health success.2
A better choice would also be carbs with a lower glycemic index such as many vegetables and some fruits. The glycemic index rates foods based on how likely they are to raise blood sugar as well as how quickly. Sudden spikes in blood sugar can result in fatigue in the short-term and other negative health impacts in the long-term.1,2
How many carbs do I need?
The amount of carbs you need depends on your health goals as well as other factors that define you (e.g., activity level, age, gender, height, weight, etc.). You will find several suggestions on the EverydayHealthHacker™ website. For example, carbs comprise 20% of daily calories on the Anti-inflammatory Health Success and 10% of daily calories on the Keto Health Success plan.
The recommendations for carb requirements and limits vary. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that people consume 130 grams of carbohydrates daily. Depending on the person, this amount comprises between 45 and 65 percent of the total calories consumed each day. The carb recommendation from the National Institutes of Health is 135 grams a day.3,4
Once you find your fit—the Health Success Plan with the targets that work best for you—the next step is to determine how many calories you need. For help with this, see the minicourse on calories on the EverydayHealthHacker™ website. The course outlines resources to help you calculate your calorie needs and track your calorie consumption.
If you need 2,000 calories and your plan recommends 20% carbs, then your target will be 400 calories from carbs. Every gram of carbs provides four calories. Thus, you will aim to consume 100 grams of carbs each day.5
How do I track my carbs?
Many resources exist to help you track your carb consumption. You can start with the most basic means: the nutrition facts label available on some foods, a pen, and a piece of paper. More advanced resources also exist such as the suggested apps and websites listed below.
Calculator.net has a carb calculator that computes the percentage of carbs you need each day.
CarbManager.com provides a database of foods with the count of macros, micronutrients, and net carbs that each food contains.
Carbs are vital nutrients than can benefit your health. Once you set your carb goal, you can use a variety of resources to help you select and track your carbs.