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Of the three macronutrients – or macros – carbohydrates (carbs) are probably the least understood by most people. When trying to lose weight or cut calories most people immediately think they need to remove or reduce all carbs from their diet. Carbs are blamed for obesity and many health issues such as diabetes. In reality, when it comes to healthy eating and living, carbs are the most important part of the human diet.

The Importance of Carbs Not All Being Equal

Carbs are classified as simple (carbohydrate with less than 10 carbon/water units) or complex (carbohydrate with more than 10 carbon/water units).

Simple carbs are low in nutrients and fiber, making them quick digesting carbs. Because of the quick digestion, appetites aren’t satisfied for long so people want to eat again sooner, resulting in overeating. Simple carbs include: 

  • fructose – honey and fruit
  • galactose – part of lactose
  • glucose – blood sugar
  • lactose – dairy sugar
  • maltose – rare
  • sucrose – table sugar

Complex carbs contain more nutrients than simple carbs, are higher in fiber, and digest more slowly making them more filling, which is important in weight control. Complex carbs are also ideal for people with Type 2 diabetes because they help manage post meal blood sugar surges. Cellulose, glycogen, and starch (grains, wheat, and rice) are examples of complex carbs.

How Many Carbs Do You Need

NCSF recommends a daily carb intake of 55-60% of the diet, while NASM has a larger range of 45-65%. Most Americans average 40-50% carbs with half of those calories coming from simple carbs such as sugar. 

Diet Examples

When determining how many carbs you should be eating, there are many variables. If you know your daily caloric intake, then you simply need to work backwards and determine how many grams you should consume.

1600 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 50% carb-based diet, a person eating 1600 calories a day would consume 800 calories worth of carbs. There are 4 calories in 1 gram of a carb, so on a 1600 calorie diet, a person would consume 800 calories or 200 grams of carbs per day. A simplistic approach to breaking this down across the day would be splitting the carbs across 3 meals and 2 snacks, for 50g per meal and 25g per snack.

2500 Calorie Diet

Assuming a 60% carb-based diet, a person eating 2500 calories a day would consume 1500 calories worth of carbs. 1500 calories of carbs is equal to 375 grams of carbs per day.

Don’t Be Scared of Carbs

As previously mentioned, complex carbs are more nutritious and contain fiber helping slow digestion – helping in weight control. Carbs also help insulin levels for diabetics. If you want to be more active or already are active, carbs are the primary fuel source for intense work and are required for the formation of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is used by the central nervous system. Simply put, if you workout, you need carbs for energy. If you want to be healthy, you need carbs. You simply need to pick the right carbs.

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