Client Core Habit: Under 100 Grams Of Carbohydrates Per Day
Question: Did you consume more than 100g of Carbohydrates today in any form?
How To Know You’ve Done This: Measure your daily carb intake using any of the numerous and free macronutrient trackers on the web.We recommend MyFitnessPal.
As we’ve coached people at Village over the past 4 years, we’ve noticed trends amongst our most successful clients. Those who have hit their weight loss goals track their carbohydrate intake and keep their daily carb totals under 100 grams a day. There is a direct correlation between weight loss and relentlessly tracking carb intake and keeping it under 100 grams per day. Those who are frustrated with their progress either don’t consciously track their carb intake or don’t have certainty about how many carbs they are eating.
How Did We Become Carb-Obsessed?
The shelves of our grocery stores and the balance of the USDA food pyramid is heavily slanted to encourage the overconsumption of carbohydrates.
Although carbs are indeed present in nature, we were not made to consume them in the amount or method in which we consume them today.
In pre-agricultural times, our food came mainly from plants and animals. Grains were absent until relatively recently.
Today, grains form the centerpiece of the American diet. Large agricultural corporations pay large sums of money to get the “heart healthy” label plastered on the side of their cereals and oatmeals to give consumers a false sense of security about the food they are eating.
So what’s so bad about grains, sugar, and eating a diet high in carbohydrates?
Insulin and the Food (mis)Guide(d) Pyramid
Insulin is an extremely important hormone in the human body. Its role is to regulate the level of sugar present in the bloodstream. The composition of blood is delicate and precise, so the body goes through great lengths to ensure it is just right. Whether the carbohydrates come from Skittles or Sweet Potatoes, the body reacts to an influx of carbohydrates by spiking insulin levels. The problem is that when this happens frequently in a system already inundated with carbohydrates, the system wears out prematurely. As many of you already know, dysfunction in insulin regulation leads to insulin insensitivity, which is the cause of Type II diabetes. Insulin insensitivity makes it extremely difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar. This compromises metabolism, energy levels, and even nerve function. In fact, diabetics are at a high risk for nerve damage that can render feet and hands numb. In the delicate blood vessels near the eyes, diabetes can cause retinopathy, compromising vision even to the extent of blindness.
Unfortunately, the current US government set RDAs for carbohydrates are extremely high. Most of us have grown up seeing grains as the bottom of the “Food Guide Pyramid,” so it’s no wonder we make carbohydrates the backbone of every meal and snack. This leaves our blood, our liver, and our muscles all saturated in carbohydrates. The body has no choice but to convert those excessive carb molecules into fat storage cells. Consuming under 100g of carbohydrates per day prevents excessive insulin production and makes a major stride in halting chronic weight gain.
So, we’ve developed our own food pyramid.
Remember the delicate composition of blood we were just talking about? In an environment inundated by carbohydrates, our blood vessels actually get sticky. That’s right- the same way sugary foods make a toddler’s hands a sticky mess, so it is with your arteries. This is a big issue because arteries need to be flexible and adaptable. They are covered in a layer of smooth muscle that helps them regulate blood pressure and blood flow so that your body can perform optimally in all types of situations, whether laying down for a nap or “laying up” for 2 points in a pick-up basketball game. Over time, carbohydrate molecules bind with proteins on the surface of your arteries, causing them to be rigid and sticky. Believe it or not, the scientific term for these bonds is Advanced Glycation End-products, or AGEs. Carbs literally AGE your blood vessels!
While most folks are afraid of cholesterol causing arterial plaques, it’s really assaults against the integrity of the arterial wall such as AGEs that set us up for vascular failure.
When you make carbohydrates the feature film of your dinner theater, you miss the opportunity to cook and eat delicious meat and vegetables. Go ahead and google image search “fine dining” right now. You will see many beautiful, mouthwatering dishes, and 99 out of 100 of them will have only a few accenting carbs on the plate. Even with desserts, you will see a far higher proportion of fats and herbs than pure sugar or carbs than the average American dessert. When you consume a high proportion of your daily calories from carbohydrates, you miss the opportunity to eat delicious, highly nutrient dense foods such as vegetables and pasture raised animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
Guilty by Association
Like tends to attract like. Most carbohydrates in the Standard American Diet come prepackaged with preservatives, chemicals, and toxic fats. When you get out of the habit of making carbs a feature of every meal and snack and avoiding added sugars, you will automatically eliminate volumes of other junk you don’t want polluting your body.
Grains contain many substances that the human body is allergic or sensitive to, such as the infamously un-trendy wheat protein gluten (as well as other allergenic proteins known as lectins). Ironically, whole-grains actually contain more of these anti-nutrients than refined grains. Whole grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye compared to refined grains like white flour, white rice, and white bread.
Lectins communicate poorly with our gut. They are picked up as a foreign invader. Eat enough of them over a long enough period of time and you’ll damage the barrier between your gut and your blood. This barrier prevents entry of dangerous proteins, allergens, bacteria, and other pathogens to go from in your gut where they belong to in your bloodstream where they wreak havoc and cause disease.
So What Do We Eat?
Many clients we work with begin to go through their day and wonder how they will get enough calories from the food they are eating. Ubiquitous staples like oatmeal for breakfast, turkey on wheat for lunch, and spaghetti for dinner all contribute to pushing us past our carb totals for the day. Imagine a delicious egg and vegetable scramble for breakfast, a beautiful fresh salad for lunch with avocados and lemon vinaigrette for lunch, and a petite ribeye with herbs and asparagus for dinner. Throw in a few nuts, seeds, berries and a probiotic rich yogurt or pickle here and there and you’ve got everything your body needs. Then, for dinner, it’s vegetables a’ plenty, healthy fats in the form of avocados, good oils, nuts, seeds, meat from good sources, and full-fat (preferably raw) dairy products.
Do All Carbs Turn Into Sugar?
Yes, they do. Some quicker and some slower but all turn into sugar. Some high carb foods like sweet potatoes and berries are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients, but all carbs turn into sugar.
So what’s wrong with sugar?
Here are some facts about sugar:
Sugar spikes levels of systemic inflammation in our bodies when ingested.
Our stores are full of sugary foods, making it seem like buying sugary things is the norm.
Sugar can change our DNA and make us age more rapidly.
Sugar disrupts hormonal function.
Sugar is sticky, and when in high levels in our blood, it wreaks havoc.
There are far too many people in our world addicted to sugar. The average American consumes 220 pounds per year.
A diet high in sugar changes the biochemistry of our brains to crave more sugar. It's a vicious cycle.
Sadly, carbohydrates, complex and simple, turn into sugar in our body.
As a general rule, we encourage people to keep dietary carbohydrate intake to 100 grams per day or less. 100 grams is not a hard rule backed by science. It’s just a simple number that is easy to remember that will help you lose weight, feel better, and live well.
For the average person eating 2000 calories a day, this would be roughly 20% of their total calories or 400 calories of carbohydrates. When reading nutrition labels: 1g of carbs = 4 calories
You can track your daily carb intake on MyFitnessPal, a free calorie-counting app, or with a pen and paper.
Do We Need Sugar To Live?
You need glucose in your bloodstream to survive. But our bodies were designed to create glucose from just about everything we eat and even pull from our fat stores. Wahoo! We start to have problems when we get too much sugar in our bloodstream. Hence the 100 grams rule. Sugar is sparse in nature. Now we Americans consume 200-plus pounds each year!
Sugar Is Addictive
Sugar consumption releases endogenous opiates, brain chemicals that make you feel so good that you do things you know are stupid just to get that feeling again. Something stupid like driving 60 minutes in LA traffic just to get some Salt & Straw ice cream.
The side effects of sugar consumption include, but are not limited to, reduced immune function, increased fat production, fatty liver, hypertension, anxiety, and diabetes.
Add vegetable oil to your sugary diet and these unhealthy side effects are magnified.
Here’s a quick test to know if you’re addicted: Does eating something sugary give you the “OMG, this is the greatest thing ever, take this from me and I will hurt you!” feeling? If so, you’re addicted.
Sugar And Hormones
The average American today is 15 to 16 pounds heavier than in the 1980s.
Not only are people gaining weight through life, but we are also gaining weight faster than we did a few decades ago.
This may be a result of sugar’s disruptive effect on the hormones inside our body.
Like the natural and good foods we are calling you to eat, sugar also communicates with our bodies. In excess, it binds to hormone receptors and makes them insensitive to insulin. Sugar blocks nutrient channels, weakens bones, and makes it more difficult to build lean tissues like muscle.
For women frustrated with midlife weight gain and difficulty losing weight, sugar is often the culprit.
Sugar consumption + menopausal hormone changes = weight gain.
Sugar even changes the collagen in our joints, skin, and tendons, which can lead to early aging, arthritis, and other inflammatory issues. It also disrupts our white blood cell function, a prime protector from diseases like cancer and infections.
What About Blood Vessels?
Inside our blood vessels there is a complicated series of interactions taking place thousands of times per second. Just watch the episode of “The Magic School Bus” on the human body and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
It's not simply a hollow tube where blood flows through. Rather it’s a complex interaction of hormones, nutrients, and blood vessels all happening at lightspeed. When glycation reactions occur and AGEs form, the flow of blood slows and there is confusion in the blood cells.
When there is confusion in our blood cells, it affects our muscles’ ability to contract, our eyes’ ability to process visual information, and our skin’s ability to feel and sense where we are in space.
Normally, when there are issues with our circulatory system, our white blood cells come to the rescue and patch things up. But when AGEs take place, our white blood cells lose their ability to help. A loss of white blood cell function can lead to early cancer cell growth. AGEs are even the primary reason diabetics develop circulatory problems.
Certain cells require a steady supply of glucose. It's the sole job of the pancreas to make sure our blood stream has the right amount at all times. Our pancreas is highly skilled at its job.
When we eat a big piece of cake or drink a large soda, AGEs form in our blood stream. If the clean-up crew does not have enough time to clean things up before your next treat, problems start to occur as AGEs become permanent.
This is the downward spiral into which so many diabetics fall. And this is why keeping our sugar and carbohydrate intake low is so important.
Sugar And Complexity
When we eat a free-range chicken breast cooked on the bone that we purchased from the local farmers market, we can be assured we will receive a large and complex amount of nutritional information. The chicken roamed outside, eating grass and insects while soaking up vitamin D. Juxtapose this with processed carbohydrates like granola. The granola was made in a factory and likely has artificial vitamins and minerals injected into it. What a different message these foods will communicate to our bodies. We need to understand that this type of nutritional communication is different inside our bodies.
Carbs Under 100 Grams Per Day Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
If food is a language, why would we give a specific number of grams of carbs to eat per day?
We recommend reducing carbs under 100 grams a day for two reasons. First, it’s easy to remember and easy to know whether or not you’ve done it. Second, by keeping your carbohydrate intake low, you’ll naturally eat foods that communicate well with your body.
What About Fruit?
We’d much rather have clients eating a handful of berries than a thick slice of bread. Yet, carbs from fruit are still carbs. Fruit spikes insulin and should be taken into consideration in the large picture of your diet as a whole.
If you want to lose weight, and you eat copious amounts of fruit, cutting back may be a necessity.
Fruit today looks drastically different from 100 years ago. In the past, fruit was only available when it was in season. Today, any fruit we want is at the supermarket for us whenever we want it.
Are Whole Grains Better?
Nope. All carbs turn to sugar in our blood stream. Although whole grains may have a higher fiber content, we should really be getting our fiber from vegetables.
How should I measure my daily carbs?
We recommend tracking your daily carb intake using MyFitnessPal, a free calorie tracker on the web and in the app store.
Should I Avoid Sugar Altogether?
We’ve talked about the effects of sugar on our brain, skin, circulatory system, and body fat. Our hope is not that you will never have ice cream or enjoy a dessert ever again. Our hope is that these things will be the exception and not the norm. Our hope is that you’ll make healthy fats, vegetables, and protein the main event of your meals instead of carbs.
Don’t view sugary foods as “off-limits.” This tends to create unhealthy psychological issues. Instead, view these foods as a poor means of nutritional communication with your body. Create a diet rich in foods that communicate well.
It’s easy to overeat carbs. Enzymes in our mouth convert starch to sugar and increase our appetite. In your stomach, carbs tend to take up little space so we don’t get full quickly, causing us to eat more than we need.
Don’t ditch carbs — just rethink the ratios.
You can have the pasta, but switch out most of the noodles and add in extra sauce. Better yet, try zucchini noodles!
Have bread, but eat it slowly and with a generous helping of raw butter.
If you like stir-fry, heap on the meat and veggies and keep rice to a minimum or try riced cauliflower.
What About Artificial Sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and even stevia communicate something with your body that is confusing. When you ingest something sweet, your body prepares itself for a rush of glucose. It releases insulin. When there is no sugar for insulin to manage, LDL levels tend to rise and body fat is stored more readily.
I advise against the use of artificial sweeteners, even natural ones like stevia.
When your body doesn’t get the sugar it thinks it will get, hunger signals rise and you’re more likely to overeat later on.
Focus on eating real foods that will communicate well with your body.
For a specific list of grams of carbs in common foods, see this website: https://open.umich.edu/sites/default/files/downloads/diabetes_101-taking_charge.pdf
What Does It Look Like To Have A Carb-Conscious Day?
I've gotten quite a few questions about what a “carb-conscious” day would look like.
Well, here it is.
First, we have a sample menu with estimates for how many grams of carbs are included.
Notice the example foods. They are all low in carbs. The chili with sweet potato was the bulk of the carbs for the day.
Vital Farms Free-Range Eggs: 2 grams
Organic Pastures Raw Grass-Fed Butter: 0 grams
Organic Spinach: 7 grams
Homemade grass-fed ground beef chili with organic sweet potatoes: 40 grams
Large organic kale salad with goat cheese, pine nuts, and homemade olive oil and vinegar dressing: 20 grams of carbs
The total carbohydrate intake for the day was about 60 grams.
Next, I wanted to provide you with a long list of various foods, the portion size, and then the carb content.
My hope is to bring awareness to which foods are richer in carbs.
As you'll notice, when you think of food as a language that communicates with your body, it's easy to stay under the 100 grams of carbs per day. When you fill your body with nutrient-dense vegetables, fresh dairy products, and meat off the bone, it leaves little room for carbs.
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