If there is one nutrition topic that can incite heated arguments among both experts and Average Joes, it would be carbohydrates.
Alongside protein and fat, carbohydrates are fuel for your body and brain, helping you think more clearly and focus accurately. But before stock your grocery cart with whole wheat bread, consider this: all carbohydrates, no matter the kind or quality, reduce down to glucose in the bloodstream. While glucose is utilized in many different ways in the body, too much blood sugar circulating in the bloodstream can cause serious health problems, including obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes, some cancers and heart disease.
If consuming carbs raises your blood sugar and causes a variety of health issues, the answer must just be to cut your carbohydrate intake, right? After all, when the body can’t utilize glucose for energy, it can rely on other processes to turn fat into fuel – and isn’t stoking the “fat burning” furnace the ultimate fitness goal?
Why you Shouldn’t Stop Eating Carbs Altogether
The reality of the matter is if you restrict your carbohydrate intake too drastically, you face a laundry list of other health issues, including poor sleep quality and even higher blood sugar.
When you eat a meal but don’t consume carbs, your blood sugar starts to drop. In order to try to balance that out, your adrenal glands produce more of the hormone cortisol, which takes glucose from your muscles and liver. Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” is not all bad, despite its nickname; it’s essential to maintain your body’s hormonal balance and to help you survive when facing a threatening or stressful situation.
However, if you are under constant stress, whether from not eating enough, not consuming the right balance of nutrients, or slacking on sleep, elevated cortisol can cause more harm than good. The real kicker is that chronically elevated cortisol can make you gain weight – especially in the gut, which is not somewhere we want excess flab.
When Should You Eat Carbs?
Generally, cortisol levels are highest early in the morning and dip down when you’re getting ready for bed. To promote a healthy hormonal balance, which is the key to sustainable weight loss, strategically time your carbohydrate intake so that it is lowest first thing in the morning and increases as the day goes on.
This goes against the popular dieting suggestion to eat carbs earlier in the day so you can “burn them off.” However, fat loss requires a healthy hormonal balance and rather than restrict calories (or in this case, carbs), manage your hormones to promote fat loss more easily and sustainably.
Adapting Your Carb Intake to your Culture and Lifestyle
Your daily carbohydrate requirements will vary vastly depending on things like size, gender, age, activity level and potentially, even ethnicity. Certain cultures have depended on carbohydrates for survival for hundreds, if not thousands of years, while others thrive with practically nonexistent carbs.
No matter what your genetic makeup or family history, it’s highly probable that you would do just fine by consciously cutting out most refined sources of carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta and sweets.
Choosing the Right Carbs For you
In nature, there exist both delicious and nutritious sources of carbohydrates in the form fruit and starchy vegetables. Sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, squash, apples, pears, bananas, and the rest of the rainbow-hued variety of carbohydrate-rich produce are smart options for most people.
However, all of this comes with the caveat that each person’s dietary needs vary greatly and the only way to truly know for sure what is the “perfect” diet for you would be trial and error.