Macro Basics: Carbs

To carb or not to carb…  don’t be silly! 

Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for the body.  Oh, veggies and fruits are carbs too (not just the potatoes, bread, and sugary desserts).  We have the tendency, especially in the Standard American Diet, to just think of carbs as sugar, bread, pasta and maybe bad but oh so good.  I am here to say that there is a place for carbs in your diet and understanding the significance of them in the diet is key to maintaining a balanced and energetic lifestyle.

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First and foremost, carbohydrates serve as the primary source of energy for our bodies, and they come in two main forms: starchy and non-starchy.  Although your body can make energy from other sources like fats and protein, we will focus on carbs here.

Good Starchy Carbohydrates Examples:

  1. Whole Grains:
    • Foods like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread provide complex carbohydrates, offering sustained energy release and a rich source of fiber.
  2. Root Vegetables:
    • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots are examples of starchy vegetables that deliver essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and energy-providing carbohydrates.
  3. Legumes:
    • Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of both protein and complex carbohydrates. They contribute to satiety and provide a steady release of energy.

Good Non-Starchy Carbohydrates Examples:

  1. Leafy Greens:
    • Vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are low in calories and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them excellent choices for non-starchy carbohydrates.
  2. Berries:
    • Berries like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries offer sweetness along with antioxidants and fiber, promoting digestive health.
  3. Cruciferous Vegetables:
    • Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, supporting digestion and providing essential nutrients.

I am not ruling out other simpler carbs as a source of fuel (sugar, refined foods, white rice and such), but we over consume these in general, and our bodies do not reap the same benefits on average.  For the sake of macro basics here, nutrient density, and satiety, whole foods are the important ones to consider, so I will leave that there for now.

Fact: Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram of food source.

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The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates varies based on factors such as age, sex, and physical activity. Generally, according to the RDA, carbohydrates should make up 45% to 65% of total daily caloric intake. However, everyone is different, has different health issues, and physical fitness requirements among other things.  You might need to be “low carb” to maintain glucose levels.  You might need higher carbs because you feel better that way or are an athlete needing energy and replenishment of glycogen stores/or to fuel a hard exercise regimen. It’s unique to you!

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in the body, as they are the preferred energy source for the brain and muscles. The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used for immediate energy or stored in the muscles and liver, as glycogen, for future energy use.  Any excess can be stored as fat.  This is what scares people.  It doesn’t have to be scary, but you should pay attention to what types you consume daily and what your needs are.  In general, you should eat more on the non-starchy list if you are looking for weight loss (which is hard in a society that encourages pizza, burgers, and the tasty fries – you can still enjoy these, but in moderation for your health).

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Understanding the distinction between starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates helps you make informed choices about daily intake. While starchy carbohydrates provide potential longer lasting energy and essential nutrients, they also can spike your blood sugars more than non-starchy carbohydrates.  Non-starchy also contributes to a well-rounded, low-calorie, and nutrient/fiber-rich diet, while also not spiking blood sugars too high.  Striking a balance between these two forms of carbohydrates ensures sustained energy levels, a variety of nutrients, supports overall health, and helps maintain a healthy weight.

Carbs play a unique role in supporting our overall well-being. From the sustaining energy of whole grains and root vegetables to the nutrient-dense goodness of leafy greens and berries, incorporating a variety of carbohydrates into our diet is essential for a balanced and nutritious lifestyle. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian, and working with a nutrition coach, can provide personalized guidance on carbohydrate intake, helping you make informed choices that align with health goals.

Feel free to reach out if you are looking for some support on getting on a healthier track in life! Contact