Thursday, February 02, 2017 • Oshawa, ON L1H 2P9, CA
I always find it interesting to browse the online forums of health and fitness websites. It gives me an idea of what kind of questions are on people’s minds. Typically on these forums you’ll have someone new to fitness ask a question and the forum members give their feedback. One particular discussion I saw recently peaked my interest.
The question posed to the group was “I’m having trouble meeting my daily carb recommendations. What are some food recommendations for healthy carb snacks?” The question itself isn’t too unusual but one of the responses was a little surprising to me. One respondent answered back that carbohydrate intake is just a suggestion; you don’t need to eat any carbs. I had a little trouble with that answer. I’ll deal with the validity of that claim in a bit but to suggest to someone new on a weight loss journey to not eat any carbs (without knowing the history of the person posing the question) is ridiculous. Even as a fitness professional, I’m not legally or ethically allowed to suggest something like that. In fact, trainers are not allowed to prescribe any type of meal plan. That is the domain of Registered Dieticians and other medical professionals.
To stop eating all carbs really isn’t a good idea. You would be eliminating healthy grains, pasta, rice, fruits and veggies—all great sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. For your total daily calorie count, the healthy ranges for protein, fats and carbs are
- Protein: 10-35%
- Fat: 20-35%
- Carbohydrate: 45-65%
This is a wide enough range to accommodate many eating lifestyles and still provide enough nutrition to keep you healthy. For my body, my unique carbohydrate range would be between 270 to 390 grams of carbs a day. My protein intake would range from 60 grams to 210 grams. More than enough leeway to fit in to any goal I wish.
WHERE THE CONFUSION EXISTS
The idea that carbohydrates are not needed comes from the fact that in the absence of carbs, your body can make glucose (the body’s energy source) from fats and proteins. This is true but this is what your body has to do because it is going into survival mode. Your body doesn’t know that you are on some special diet recommended on a health forum—all it knows is that there is a lack of food so now it has to make changes to its internal environment in order to survive. I don’t want my body to just survive, I want it to thrive!
Your body CAN make energy from other sources (because it has to do whatever it can to survive) but you don’t WANT it to do that. Save the protein for what it was meant for---not fuel the body. Outside of a medical condition which would warrant a lower carb diet (people with Parkinson’s Disease and Epilepsy do well on lower carb diets) there simply is no reason for the average person seeking weight loss or just a healthy lifestyle to sway too far from the 45%65% range. You would be hard pressed to find a nutrition professional that would suggest otherwise.
There are studies that show eating very low-carb diets can be beneficial but you have to read the studies (and not just the news headlines) to get to some other information that is key. Most of the participants in these studies, while consuming low carb diets, were fed fruits and vegetables as their main sources of carbohydrates. While that is good, it doesn’t replicate the sources found in a typical North American diet. A typical diet would include processed (and unhealthy) carb sources. So, did the subjects of the study benefit from eating a very low-carb diet or was the benefit from eliminating processed food? The studies don’t address that. Also, the participants were given vitamin and mineral supplements to make up for deficiencies in the low-carb diet. If the average person eats a diet of healthy fats, good sources of lean protein and load up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains then you wouldn’t have a need to supplement. People with extra demands on their body such as athletes or pregnant women may benefit from supplementation but not for the average person. Interestingly, the participants were given increased salt intake to counteract the accelerated sodium losses associated with the diet. With weight loss being difficult enough, is this something the average person can really live with? Is it a way of life you WANT to live with?
Lest you think I’m bashing various dietary approaches—I’m not. I run into people all the time with unique approaches and I realize that every BODY is different and everyone has different goals. As a fitness professional, it’s our job to share healthy recommendations and to support you no matter what you choose. The recommended protein, fat, carb ranges are simply the best science we have at the moment for the average person. That’s not to say that won’t change in the future but let’s let science take its course. It is important not to chase the headlines but instead youshould rely on credible sources of information. If you think you want to try a new way of eating then consult a health professional like a dietician. Based on your unique body, goals and medical information, a medical professional can come up with a solution that’s for you.