How many carbs should I eat a day to lose weight?

Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet is one of the best ways to lose weight. By reducing the carbohydrates in your diet, especially simple carbs, you will lower your insulin levels. Insulin is the storage (get fat) hormone. Lowering insulin levels keeps your body from storing excess sugar as fat. Furthermore, lowering your insulin levels allows fat to be released from your fat cells to be used as energy. Reduced-carb lifestyles also have benefits that go beyond just weight loss. They naturally lower blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides. They raise HDL (the good cholesterol) and improve the pattern of LDL (the bad cholesterol) from type B to type A.

There is no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a low or reduced carb lifestyle. Furthermore, what is low for one person may not be low for another. An individual’s optimal carb intake depends on multiple variables such as age, gender, body composition, activity levels, and current metabolic health. People who are physically active and have more muscle mass can tolerate a lot more carbs than people who are sedentary. Metabolic health is also a very important factor. When people become insulin resistant, obese, or type II diabetic, the rules change. People who fall into this category can’t tolerate the same amount of carbs as those who are healthy. They become “carbohydrate intolerant”. If you are overweight with belly fat, chances are you are carbohydrate intolerant.

For most people, I would recommend starting in the range of 50-100 grams of carbohydrates a day. This range is great if you want to lose weight effortlessly while allowing for a bit of carbs in the diet. It is also a great maintenance range for people who are carb sensitive. This level corresponds to eating lots of vegetables, 2-3 pieces of fruit per day, and minimal if any starchy carbohydrates.

For some though, the 50-100 gram range may not be enough to see benefit. Those who are significantly carbohydrate intolerant, pre-diabetic, insulin resistant, diabetic, or significantly obese may need a lower range to see benefit. If the 50-100 gram range is not working, try the 25-50 gram range. At this level, you can eat plenty of low-carb vegetables, some berries, and minimal carbs from other foods. This range can be difficult for some people to maintain.

Remember, everyone is different. You will need to experiment to see what level works best for you. You may need to start out at a fairly low level, but subsequently you may be able to increase your daily intake as you lose weight and become more carbohydrate sensitive. If you want to try out a reduced carb lifestyle, I recommend initially tracking your food intake for a few weeks to get a feel for the amount of carbs you are eating.

Very important: if you are a diabetic or on diabetes medication, you will need to discuss your diet changes with your primary care physician or endocrinologist first. This is critical. You will need to monitor your blood sugars closely, and most likely reduce your diabetes medication. Your blood sugars will drop fairly quickly and you do not want to become hypoglycemic. Do not try without your personal physician’s guidance.

If you are trying to become healthier and lose weight, give this dietary lifestyle a try. Most people’s metabolisms are just not able to handle the amount of carbohydrates they are ingesting on a daily basis. Lowering your daily carbohydrate intake will make you healthier, naturally, subsequently reducing the need for medications.

Use the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load as natural ways to improve your health.

Obesity is a significant problem in our society. Losing weight and maintaining weight loss is incredibly difficult for most people. A major cause of weight gain in many people is elevated insulin levels. As described in prior articles, insulin is the “get fat and stay fat hormone”. If your insulin levels are high you will gain weight, which tends to be deposited in your belly. This is the dangerous fat, which leads to many diseases. Furthermore, high insulin levels lock in the fat already in your fat cells making weight loss extremely difficult, even with exercise. The glycemic index and glycemic loads are tools you can use to help you decide which foods to eat to help lower your insulin levels. Lower insulin levels will lead to weight loss and help to maintain weight.

 
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise and how persistent the blood sugar remains elevated. The glycemic index (GI) ranks food on a scale from 0 to 100. Foods with a high GI are quickly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. This leads to a large and persistent increase in insulin secretion. Insulin is the storage hormone that leads to weight gain and prevents weight loss. The foods that rank high on the GI scale tend to be high in processed carbohydrates and sugars. Pretzels, for example, have a GI of 83 and a baked potato without the skin has a GI of 98.
On the other hand, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed at a slower rate and, subsequently, cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels. This causes low or minimal increase in insulin levels. Low insulin levels lead to weight loss. Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber, protein and/or fat. Examples of these include apples with a glycemic index of 28, unsweetened Greek-style yogurt at 11, and peanuts at 7. Keep in mind that a low GI doesn’t necessarily mean that a food is high in nutrients or healthy. You still need to choose healthy foods high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Following a low GI diet can make it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, since these foods keep us feeling fuller, longer. Low-GI diets have also been shown to improve insulin resistance, and lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

 
One criticism of the glycemic index is that since the scale was created on a standard amount of carbohydrate per food (50 grams), it does not give people information about the amount of food they are actually eating. A common example is carrots. Carrots have a high glycemic index, but to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from carrots, you have to eat 4 cups of chopped carrot. Most people cannot eat this amount of carrots at one sitting. For this reason, the concept of Glycemic load was created, which takes serving size into account. Glycemic load (GL) is a formula that corrects for potentially misleading GI by combining portion size and GI into one number. The carbohydrate content of the actual serving is multiplied by the food’s GI, then that number is divided by 100. So for a cup of beets, the GL would be: 13 times 64 = 832 divided by 100 = a GL of 8.3. As a frame of reference, a GL higher than 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered moderate, and 10 or less is considered low.

 
If you are trying to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, lower your blood sugar, or lower you triglycerides naturally try to eliminate high glycemic foods from your diet. Many people are “carbohydrate intolerant”, that is their bodies cannot tolerate the large amount of simple carbs they are ingesting on a daily basis. A lower GI diet which eliminates many processed carbs from the diet is a good natural way to improve your health.

 
Click on these links to tables listing foods and their glycemic index/load:

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Harvard Medical School

 

Are you carbohydrate intolerant?

Many people know they are intolerant to lactose. They will get sick if they consume milk products. Others are intolerant to gluten. They will get sick if they consume wheat products. But how would you know if you are intolerant to carbohydrates? Here are several clues:

  1. Abdominal fat: if you are packing extra pounds around your belly this is a good sign that you may be intolerant to carbohydrates.
  1. Elevated blood sugar: if your resting blood sugars are running high, you are most likely intolerant to carbohydrates.
  1. Elevated hemoglobin A1c: this goes along with number 2. An elevated hemoglobin A1c on your blood panel signifies your blood sugar has been running high over the preceding 3 months. This is a good indicator that you are intolerant to carbohydrates.
  1. Elevated triglycerides: elevated triglycerides on a blood panel can be due to carbohydrate intolerance.
  1. Low HDL cholesterol: this is your good cholesterol. Low HDL can be due to consuming too many carbohydrates and carbohydrate intolerance
  1. Elevated BMI/Obesity: if you are overweight this may be due to carbohydrate intolerance
  1. Hypertension: if your blood pressure is running high, this can be a sign of carbohydrate intolerance
  1. Metabolic syndrome: if your doctor tells you that you have this syndrome, you most likely are carbohydrate intolerant
  1. Prediabetes: this goes along with number 8, and suggests you are intolerant to carbohydrates.
  2. Diabetes mellitus: if you have been diagnosed with this disease, you are most likely intolerant to carbohydrates

So do you have any of these markers? If you do, the treatment may be to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, especially the simple carbohydrates. It means you are eating too much sugar, bread, pasta, rice, and flour in your diet. Just as reducing milk products will help those who are lactose intolerant, cutting back on carbohydrates will help those intolerant to carbohydrates. In fact, reducing carbohydrates in your diet is a great natural way to help cure all ten of the “symptoms” above.

Are all calories equal?

Since we were children, we’ve been taught that weight loss comes down to the simple idea of “calories in versus calories out.” This equation is simple and easy to understand. If you want to lose weight, you must take in fewer calories than you consume. This can be achieved by creating a calorie deficit via a reduced-calorie diet, an increase in physical activity, or a combination of both. The weight-loss industry makes billions of dollars each year trying to cash in our desperate attempts to curb this obesity epidemic that has plagued America, but is it possible that it’s more complicated than the old adage, “eat less and exercise more”?

Employing simple, basic strategies to reduce total calories has been a common method used to lose weight. The strategies include watching portion sizes, limiting high-calorie foods, and increasing exercise. While it’s still true that a calorie is a calorie regardless of what food it came from, not all calories are created equal in the sense that foods will have different effects on your body – even if two foods are identical in their calorie contents.

For example, compare 500 calories from gummy candy and 500 calories from broccoli. When you eat the candy, your gut quickly absorbs the fiber-free sugars in the candy. The sugars spike your blood sugar, starting a domino effect of high insulin and a cascade of hormonal responses that kicks bad biochemistry into gear. The high insulin increases storage of belly fat, increases inflammation, raises triglycerides, lowers HDL, and raises blood pressure.

Your appetite is increased because of insulin’s effect on your brain chemistry. The insulin blocks your appetite-control hormone leptin. You become more leptin resistant, so the brain never gets the “I’m full” signal. Instead, it thinks you are starving. Furthermore, your pleasure-based reward center is triggered, driving you to consume more sugar and fueling your addiction.

You can see just how easily 500 calories of candy can create chaos in your body. In addition, the candy contains no fiber, vitamins, minerals, or phytonutrients to help you process the calories you are consuming. These are “empty” calories, devoid of any nutritional value. Your body doesn’t register candy as food, so you eat more all day long.

Now let’s look at the 500 calories of broccoli. As with the candy, these calories are made up primarily (although not entirely) of carbohydrates — but let’s clarify just what that means, because the varying characteristics of carbohydrates will factor significantly into the contrast I’m about to illustrate.

Carbohydrates are plant-based compounds comprised of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They come in many varieties, but they are all technically sugars or starches, which convert to sugar in the body. The important difference is in how they affect your blood sugar. High-fiber, low-sugar carbohydrates such as broccoli are slowly digested and don’t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes, while table sugar and bread are quickly digested carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar. Therein lies the difference. Slow carbohydrates like broccoli heal rather than harm.

Those 500 calories of broccoli make up 14 cups and contain 44 grams of fiber (the average American consumes less than15 grams of fiber a day). Broccoli is 23 percent protein, 9 percent fat, and 68 percent carbohydrate, or 340 calories from carbs. The “sugar” in 14 cups of broccoli is the equivalent of only one teaspoon; the rest of the carbohydrates are the low-glycemic type found in all non-starchy vegetables, which are very slowly absorbed.

What happens when you eat broccoli? Broccoli contains so much fiber that very few of the calories would actually get absorbed. Those that did would get absorbed very slowly. There would be no blood sugar or insulin spike. Your stomach would distend (which it doesn’t with candy), sending signals to your brain that you were full. There would be no triggering of the addiction reward center in the brain. You’d also get many extra benefits including lower cholesterol and reduced inflammation. The phytonutrients in broccoli are anti-inflammatory and protect against cancer and heart disease.

The key is that all calories are NOT created equal. The same number of calories from different types of food can have very different biological effects.

Some calories are addictive while others are healing. When thinking about calories, think more about the quality of the calories versus the quantity. Consider what other nutrients are you getting besides just calories. Are there vitamins, phytonutrients, or fiber? Your goal with every bite is to get the most nutrition possible.

Inflammation – Are you on fire?

You have certainly experienced acute inflammation that occurs when an injured body part turns red, hot, and swollen. Inflammation is a natural defense against infections, irritations, toxins, and foreign molecules. It is your body’s first line of defense against infection and injury. This process normally shuts down when the injury starts to heal. However, trouble can arise when the inflammation process gets stuck “on” and doesn’t know when to stop. This can happen when your immune system is out of balance.

Instead of protecting your body, chronic inflammation attacks healthy cells, blood vessels, and tissues. Chronic inflammation has been dubbed a “silent killer”. There are increasing amounts of research that suggest inflammation may be more important than cholesterol at elevating the risk of heart disease and stroke. Inflammation is also thought to increase the risk of other diseases such as cancer, auto-immune diseases (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis), depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. If inflammation is so important, what is it? Inflammation is quite simply your body’s natural defense to a foreign invader such as bacteria, toxins, or viruses. The inflammatory process is perfect in how it protects the body from these bacterial and viral invaders. However, if we chronically expose the body to injury by toxins or foods the human body was never designed to process, chronic inflammation will occur. Chronic inflammation is just as harmful as acute inflammation is beneficial. The goal is to prevent chronic inflammation.

How do you know if your inflammation level is high? A simple blood test known as C-reactive protein (CRP) can measure your inflammation level. The CRP test gives you a number. Less than 1 is considered good (low risk) and greater than 3 is considered bad (high risk). Your goal over the long term is to have a level less than 1.

What are the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation? Highly processed carbohydrates (sugar, flour, white rice and all the products made from them) and omega-6 vegetable oils like soybean, corn and safflower (which are found in many processed foods) are the biggest culprits in our diet. Several times a day, every day, these foods we consume create small injuries in your body compounding into more injuries, causing the body to respond continuously and appropriately with inflammation. Processed foods are manufactured with omega-6 oils to create a longer shelf life. While omega-6s are essential (they are part of every cell membrane controlling what goes in and out of the cell) they must be in the correct balance with omega-3s. If the balance shifts by consuming excessive omega-6s, the cell membrane produces chemicals that directly cause inflammation. Today’s mainstream American diet has produced an extreme imbalance of these two fats. The ratio of imbalance ranges from 15:1 to as high as 30:1 in favor of omega-6. In today’s food environment, a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio would be optimal and healthy. To make matters worse, the excess weight many Americans are carrying from eating these foods creates overloaded fat cells that pour out large quantities of pro-inflammatory chemicals that add to the injury caused by having high blood sugar. The process turns into a vicious cycle over time that leads to heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we trip the inflammation switch little by little each day. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with simple carbohydrates and sugars and then soaked in omega-6 oils.

There is but one answer to quieting inflammation, and that is returning to foods closer to their natural state. We need to eat more whole foods. Avoid processed foods. Eat a large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables which are loaded with anti-oxidants. Choose carbohydrates that are complex including beans and seeds. Complex carbohydrates are high in fiber. Cut down on or eliminate inflammation causing omega-6 fats like corn, soybean, and safflower oils and the processed foods that are made from them. Instead, use olive oil. (You need to read labels!) By eliminating inflammatory foods and adding essential nutrients from fresh unprocessed food, you will reverse years of damage in your arteries and throughout your body from consuming the standard American diet.

My blood pressure is mildly elevated – is this harmful?

 

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. Blood pressure tends to be higher in the morning and lower in the late afternoon and evening. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it is called hypertension. Hypertension is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder and contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). It increases both the risk of heart disease and stroke. A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg, then you have prehypertension. Historically, prehypertension was not felt to be harmful and ignored. A new study in the journal Neurology shows that this thinking is incorrect. It demonstrates that people with prehypertension have a significantly increased risk of stroke. They found that those with blood pressures in the prehypertensive range were 66% more likely to have strokes than those with ideal blood pressures, below 120/80. The risk rose as the numbers did, nearly doubling at levels above 130/85. The link showed up whether or not people had other risk factors, such as diabetes and smoking.  Multiple studies have showed that the higher the blood pressure, the higher your risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease. The good news is that high blood pressure can be reduced naturally. The number one way to lower blood pressure naturally is by losing weight. Even losing small amounts of weight such as 10-20 pounds can significantly lower your blood pressure without medication. Exercise is also a great way to lower blood pressure naturally. Regular aerobic exercise (20-30 minutes 4-5 times a week) has been shown to have beneficial effects in lowering blood pressure. Finally eating a healthy diet low in salt and high in fruits and vegetables can also help lower blood pressure naturally. Hypertension has been called the silent killer. Now we know even mildly elevated blood pressures are dangerous. If your blood pressure is high, take action now before damage has been done.

 

Having trouble losing weight? Insulin may be the culprit.

Are you having difficulty losing weight? Do the pounds just seem to stick to your middle section no matter how little you eat? Why is this? An elevated insulin level may be the culprit. Insulin is a hormone.  Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted directly into the blood, which carries them to organs and tissues of the body to exert their functions. Insulin is secreted by groups of cells within the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the stomach and secretes other hormones in addition to insulin.  Insulin’s main function is to allow our body’s cells to absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood. Carbohydrates (or sugars) are absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream after a meal. Insulin is then secreted by the pancreas in response to this elevation in blood sugar (blood glucose). Most cells of the body have insulin receptors which bind the insulin that is in the circulation.  When a cell has insulin attached to its surface, the cell activates other receptors designed to absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the inside of the cell.

 Interestingly, insulin also prevents the utilization of fat as an energy source. Insulin locks your fat cells so the fat inside cannot be released and used as energy. This makes weight loss almost impossible. When insulin levels are maintained at a low level, the body begins to use fat as an energy source. High levels of insulin tell your body to gain weight around the belly and you become more apple-shaped over time. In essence, insulin is the get fat hormone. Toxic effects of too much insulin include: increased fat storage, increased inflammation levels, high blood pressure, dyslipidemia (high triglycerides and low HDL), poor sex drive, infertility, increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. The best way to lower your insulin level and keep it down to promote weight loss is to remove sugar and simple (refined) carbohydrates from your diet. Sugar or anything quickly turned into sugar (bread, rice, pasta, sweeteners, pastries, and pretzels) will quickly raise insulin levels. Eating a diet of lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates (carbohydrates with a large amount of fiber, which slows the release of sugar into the intestine) is the best way to eat to keep your insulin levels low and to finally get rid of those difficult to lose pounds.