By. Garrett Guzman
Just a little clickbait to pique your interest. Are carbs bad? Not necessarily. Are all carbs handled in the same manner by the body? No way. Are some carbs better than others? Absolutely. Can we all eat ample carbs? It depends. Is there a certain number of carbs that can be eaten? There is individual variance. Let’s discuss further.
Carbohydrates come in many shapes and sizes. What do I mean? To keep it simplistic, carbohydrates come from both fibrous and non-fibrous sources. When we think of fibrous carbohydrates, think of most vegetables and a small amount of low-sugar, fiber-rich fruits. Although these foods contain some fiber (or in some cases, very little to none; and their non-fibrous portion is significantly greater than their fibrous portion), think of non-fibrous carbohydrates as those that come from most fruits, legumes, tubers, and grains. In addition to the fiber content, carbohydrates are also digested either very quickly or over a longer time period (and everything in-between), which is better known as their glycemic index or glycemic load. This is also an important consideration because this ultimately determines the effect it will have on our insulin and blood sugar (which further have an effect on our health and body composition). This is a very quick overview on what could otherwise seem like a very difficult concept. Ultimately, we all just want to know if we should be eating carbohydrates and how many we can eat. Well, per the above answers, it depends and there is individual variance.
What do I look at when I make specific recommendations on carbohydrate consumption? First, I like to look at an individual’s bloodwork, specifically one’s insulin, fasting glucose, HbA1c, and triglycerides (and perhaps post-prandial glucose testing in individual scenarios). If all or several of these blood markers are elevated, one is often considered insulin resistant (with a poor ability to utilize carbohydrates) and perhaps even diabetic or pre-diabetic and would be better suited reducing non-fibrous carbohydrates. In addition, per the research and education of the late Charles Poliquin (BioSignature/BioPrint models), I like to look at two body composition markers – that of the suprailiac region (above the hip) and that of the subscapular region (between the shoulder blades) to check for insulin sensitivity. These two markers are directly indicative of how well someone is handling their current carbohydrate consumption. If elevated (in comparison to the mother site – tricep; and overall body fat), one would be better suited lowering non-fibrous carbohydrates immediately. However, on the flip side, if one has excellent blood values (listed above) and low carbohydrate-related body composition sites, I will often recommend a higher carbohydrate approach, as these individuals are more insulin-sensitive (with a greater ability to utilize carbohydrates). In addition, if an individual has dysfunction of the thyroid or adrenal, I may make individual increased non-fibrous carbohydrate recommendations to keep these organs functioning optimally. Regardless, almost all individuals are free to, and encouraged to, consume plentiful amounts of fibrous carbohydrates (again, think most vegetables and a small amount of low-sugar, fiber-rich fruits). In very rare instances, with various digestive diseases or disorders, this may be limited for a short or extended period. Finally, I know I may get some pushback on this article, as many other nutrition coaches/gurus (many very well-educated) will tell you it doesn’t matter how many carbohydrates and what types of carbohydrates you eat as long as your calories are in a deficit (if trying to lose weight) or in a surplus (if trying to gain weight). This is simply untrue. I am teaching you how to figure out what is OPTIMAL for you as an individual, and how you can improve BOTH your overall health and your body composition (not one or the other). What you choose to do with this information ultimately is your choice at the end of the day.
If you are interested in knowing whether you are insulin sensitive or insulin resistant, and whether you would be better suited on a lower carbohydrate or higher carbohydrate (or moderate carbohydrate) approach, please feel free to reach out to me for an in-depth nutritional consultation where we custom tailor a nutritional approach just for YOU.