I’ve long espoused a fairly low-carb lifestyle for optimal health, but “low-carb” means different things to different people.
For some, that means eating as few carbs as possible, such as on a strict carnivore diet or something like carniflex, a meat-based approach. as a focus, strategically include certain types of plants.
For others, it means a carb-restricted keto or Atkins diet.
Some people don’t count carbs at all but still consider themselves “low-carb” because they eat mostly meat, eggs, and vegetables, and they limit things like grains, fruit, legumes, and added sugars . Sound familiar? It’s the Primal or Classical approach.
What all these low-carb eaters have in common is that they need to decide what to eat day in and day out. Thinking about food all the time can get tedious, especially when you’re trying a new way of eating and don’t know what is “allowed”. It’s tempting to categorize foods into separate categories based on macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and quality (“good” versus “bad”) foods to cut down. decision fatigue.
In the end, however, that approach was too simplistic. There are always gray areas when it comes to food. But the human brain loves to categorize things, so let’s talk about this idea of ”good carbs” and “bad carbs.”
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal: “Good Carbs” versus “Bad Carbs”
First, let’s be clear: Carbohydrates are a component of food, not a food group by itself. When people refer to “carbs,” as in “I don’t eat carbs,” they really mean that they avoid certain foods (like bread and pasta, for example) or that they limit their daily carb intake. their.
Now that’s not happening, some sources of carbohydrates are better than others. It’s not just about the amount of carbohydrates a certain food contains. You cannot judge a food purely by its macronutrient content. I love protein, but I wouldn’t knowingly eat chicken that’s been raised in a filthy cage and fed nothing but pesticide-coated corn, even though it’s “high protein.” You have to look at the bigger picture.
Instead of trying to categorize foods into “good” and “bad” categories, consider these questions:
- Does this food provide anything else my body needs besides carbs — protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals?
- Is there a downside to eating this dish? Are these carbs packed with other compounds that will affect my health (like gluten if you’re gluten sensitive, as I believe many or most people are)?
- Are there better sources of the good stuff without the potential downsides?
With these questions as a starting point, we can make some generalizations.
Don’t get carbs from grains
Yes, grains provide some nutrients (and they are often enhanced during processing). But they’re not the best source of those nutrients, and they come with significant health concerns. I have covered those concerns extensively in the past, so I will not repeat them here. If you are new to these sections, start with this post and this post.
Vegetables are a good source of carbohydrates
The benefits of eating vegetables far outweigh any worries about their carbohydrate content. (And yes, I know that carnivores will have a bone to pick with with that, no pun intended.)
You’ll want to emphasize lower-carb vegetables if you’re limiting your total carbs because you’re playing with keto, for example. These are your ground zero starches: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, cucumbers, asparagus, peppers, and the like. However, root vegetables and roots are also packed with nutrients and are lower in carbs than most grain-based items.
Other worthwhile carb sources
Mussels, mussels, oysters and scallops each contain about half a gram of carbohydrates, depending on size. Not much but have you ever eaten just one mussel? One can of smoked oysters contains about 8 grams of carbs — about the same as six large strawberries or a cubed cup of watermelon.
These foods hardly qualify as high-carb foods, but I still include them on the list because most people are surprised to learn they don’t have any carbs. (You’ll sometimes see keto “experts” say you must avoid them for this reason, but that’s ridiculous.)
Primal’s stance on fruit has always been to favor fruit that is in season (and organic or pesticide-free when possible), but otherwise feel free to consume fruit to your liking. Fruit can be a great choice for athletes looking to boost their carb intake during high-volume training and racing.
Dried fruit is a slightly different story due to its concentrated calorie and sugar content. It’s pretty easy to get rid of the hundreds of calories of trail mix made of nuts and dried fruit. That might be fine for hiking, but it won’t be ideal if you’re mindlessly eating on your way to work. Also, dried fruit is often made with canola oil or other nuts, plus added sugar, so that’s something to watch out for.
People are surprised to find that I am not staunchly opposed to beans. Going back to the questions I posed above, legumes are a pretty good source of nutrients like folate, copper, and magnesium, among others. They contain lectins and phytic acid, both considered antinutrients, but any side effects are largely minimized by soaking, sprouting, or pressure cooking the beans.
All in all, my stance on beans is that I wouldn’t make them the center of my diet, but if you want to add a scoop of black beans to your burrito bowl, go for it. However, legumes pack more carbs than vegetables, so factor that in if you’re counting carbs.
How many carbs should you eat in a day?
Most people who eat a Primal diet rich in animal products, lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds, maybe some full-fat dairy, and sensible drinks like dark chocolate will naturally fall. into range 50 to 150 grams of carbs per daymore or less.
Once the average person begins to exceed that, it becomes more difficult to maintain metabolic health. However, that doesn’t just depend on the number of carbs. The more carbs you eat, the more ultra-processed, grain- and/or sugar-laden foods and drinks you can consume.
Note that I said an average person — in other words, someone who works at a desk, is mostly sedentary, and struggles with chronic health problems. An active, metabolically healthy person has more time. An active, calorie-burning person who regularly depletes their glycogen stores can eat significantly more carbs without negative effects, as long as they’re doing the other things needed to boost their energy levels. good health (such as balancing stress and rest and avoiding chronic cardiovascular disease). In fact, endurance athletes can even add some white rice or quinoa to replenish glycogen and provide extra calories if they have good gut health to start with. That is it necessary? Nothing. I would start by eating more starchy vegetables and seasonal fruits if I wanted to increase my carb intake intentionally.
That said, I never count carbs myself unless I’m doing some kind of self-experiment. I also don’t try to limit carbs. Since I mostly eat meat and vegetables, feel great and satisfied with my current body composition and fitness level, I don’t see the need for it.
Why do people think carbs are bad?
Because “carbs” has become shorthand for bread, pasta, and dessert.
The carbs themselves are just a source of energy and a substrate for your gut bacteria to metabolize. We get into trouble when we eat them in excess, and most of our carbs come from problem foods.
What about Keto? Aren’t all carbs bad on Keto?
Nothing. The Keto Reset I recommend is simply a lower-carb version of the regular Primal style of eating. You’ll need to limit carbs to 50 grams or less per day to enter ketosis, but everything else I’ve talked about in this post applies. There’s no reason to fear bogeyman carb dieters on keto, any more than if you’re eating Primally.
Keto eaters can enjoy a variety of vegetables and even some fruits, as long as they watch their total carbohydrate intake.
Instead of categorizing foods as “good” and “bad,” let’s try to make more informed, nuanced decisions about food. Lowering all carbohydrates is incorrect and it does not help people who are just trying to be healthy. We all want boundless energy, superior gut health and balanced hormones, right? Then you should think about:
- Prioritize nutrient density
- Find out which foods are best for you and which foods you need to limit or avoid
- Experiment with macronutrients and food timing to find your personal appeal
Another important thing to remember is that food is not the only factor in good health. Consuming your carbs while sleeping for 5 hours a night, sitting for hours without exercise and drowning in chronic stress doesn’t make any sense. Keep an eye on the big picture.
Related Articles from Mark’s Daily Apple
When is the best time to eat carbs?
Dear Mark: Signs you should eat more carbs
Why Does a Keto Reset Allow 50 Grams of Carbs?
* Post update 4/12/22
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