Choosing The Right Carbs - How Much Should Be My Daily Intake?
The one important nutrient that has been a subject of controversy among the weight watchers is none other than carbohydrates. The reason behind this is that the carbohydrate needs depend on individual to individual. Whether you are embarking on a new fitness plan, ramping up for your marathon or any other workout, this essential guide will help you choose healthier options and optimize the food you consume.
The Basics of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates can be found in almost all the foods and offer 4 calories/gram. This clears the fact that not all carbohydrates are created in equal proportion. Generally, foods we eat constitutes two types of carbohydrates; simple and complex.
These types of carbohydrates are also called as ‘sugar’, usually two building blocks of sugar forming a chain. These building blocks can be fructose, glucose or galactose. The reason why these carbs taste sweet is that the chains are short and breaks down easily when they touch your tongue. Simple carbs are also easily digested and quickly absorbed into your bloodstream.
Some of the foods that are rich in simple carbohydrates are jams, jellies, candies and sweeteners such as syrup, honey or table sugar. Simple carbs can also be found in healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Though these foods contain sugar, they are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
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Complex carbohydrates contain either ‘fiber’ or ‘starch’. These carbohydrates constitute three or more sugars formed in a chain. Similar to the simple carbs, complex carbohydrates are also connected in a chain but the chains are longer. That is why when you consume complex carbohydrates, they won’t taste sweet.
And the longer the chain, the more time to break down, hence slowing the digestion process. These carbohydrates trigger gradual insulin response along with increasing satiety. Some of the foods consisting of high complex carbohydrates include rice, bread, whole grains, beans, pasta, and vegetables.
Fiber needs a special mention here. Though it’s a type of carbohydrate, the good thing is it doesn’t add up to the calories because fiber cannot be broken down and absorbed by the body easily. Any product with the nutritional label total carbohydrates will not be showing up in the grams. This is because total carbohydrates contain different types of carbohydrates such as sugar, starch, and fiber.
Specifically, sugar and dietary fiber would be there on the label as these two we care about the most, but you will not find starch. So if you really want to measure how much starch your food contains, a simple formula can reveal that.
Total carbohydrate (g) – dietary fiber (g) – sugar (g) = Total starch (g)
How to choose the right carbohydrates?
For the right carbohydrates, choosing the nutrient-rich sources is the ideal way to go. These three simple rules can help you choose smartly. It is important to note that if you are a highly athletic person who aims to optimize performance, then not all of these rules are for you.
- Eating complex carbohydrates from whole food sources – Pick 100 percent whole grain bread, beans, nuts, vegetables, brown rice, and pasta. These are also rich sources of protein, fiber, vitamin, and minerals.
- Eating small amount of complex carbs from refined sources – White rice, traditional pasta and white bread are more processed, having healthy nutrients and less amount of fiber. So it could be a better option for you.
- Eating simple carbohydrates in moderation – Pick up the simple carbohydrates fairly because they are just empty calories i.e. little or no micronutrients. These carbohydrates sometimes trigger high blood sugar. But milk and fruits are exceptions to this as they include valuable vitamins and minerals.
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How to target carbohydrates needs?
For basic day to day activities, carbohydrates particularly glucose is an essential fuel for our tissues and organs. And the right amount of carbs is necessary to break down proteins to convert them into usable glucose.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates is 130 grams a day. This is the minimum amount needed to fuel and optimize the brain, central nervous system and red blood cells of an adult. Many people need more than this. If you are not consuming enough carbs, then the body will start breaking down protein into glucose to bring back the blood glucose in the happy range.
Experts suggest that on an average, an adult should source his 50-60 percent of daily energy requirement from carbohydrates. The 25 percent of this can be derived from protein and rest from fats. As our bodies are different in sizes, there is no one fix amount of carbs for all. Moreover, the needs changes with the personal goals. For instance, an athlete would need as much as 600 grams of carbs per day or 10 grams/kg of body weight.
But we can determine our carbs needs in grams through a formula. Before that, you should decide what percentage or amount you need. If you are not sure, try this:
- If you are aiming for weight loss, start by limiting your carb intake to about 45 percent of your total calories
- If you are a hardcore exerciser who work out vigorously for over 1 hour a day or endurance events such as marathon, you might want to push this limit to 55-60 percent
When you have decided your carb intake, convert that number or percent to a decimal. For example, 50 percent is 0.5. Now multiply your total calorie goal by this decimal value. This will give you the number of calories derived from carbs. Divide the number of calories by 4 and you will get grams of carbohydrates.
For better calculation, below is the type of activity and recommended carbohydrate intake needed per kilogram of body weight.
- Very light training program – 3-5 grams/kg
- Moderate training program (60 min/day)- 5-7 grams/kg
- Moderate to high intensity training (1-3 hours/day) – 6-10 grams/kg
- High intensity training program (4-5 hours/day) – 8-12 grams/kg
This is just a general guideline. If you are really serious about your carbohydrates goals, don’t forget to consult an expert in diet and nutrition.