Poor carbohydrates have been victimized for too long and it's time to put a stop to it. Between Atkins, Paleo, Keto and all the other diet fads, many have become accustomed to dropping out the carbs when they need to lose weight.
Carbs are needed as a part of a healthy diet and removing them won't be the magic wand in your weight loss efforts, maintenance or health journey.
First and foremost, let's simply define a carbohydrate. Carbs are broken down into glucose, which is then converted into the energy that helps run all functions of the body.Glucose is the bodies preferred method of energy and there needs to be about 100g of glucose a day for the brain and body to run properly.*
As those carbs are broken down into glucose, the body also stores glycogen which is where you tap into during high intensity exercise or long endurance events.
Important to note, 1 gram of glycogen holds about 3-4 grams of water. This is why you generally experience fast weight loss when initially cutting carbs: you're not losing fat, you're losing water. This holds true for gaining weight after eating carbs again, you haven't gained 10 pounds overnight. Your glycogen stores are filled and you've gained water weight.
There are carbohydrates in just about everything you eat, sans pure fats (like oils) and while quality matters, all carbs will eventually be broken down to glucose. Some do it faster (think white bread, pastas, pure sugar) while others go more slowly (think dense grains).
But, why do we actually need carbs?
1. Hormonal Health
This goes for mostly women, although men can certainly have effects too. Carbohydrates are essential to hormonal health and balance. If you are doing lots of exercise (especially high intensity), have a decent amount of stress, are tired all the time, have irregular or missing cycles, or are pregnant/breastfeeding, you may need more carbohydrates. If you gain weight just looking at food or are cold all the time, you might also need more carbs. Most of the time, these symptoms come from not having enough energy to perform the daily tasks your life is demanding.
The graphic below from Hungry Hobby demonstrates one of the ways a low carb diet can wreak havoc on your hormones.
If you're constipated, bloated, have distention in the stomach, diarrhea or any other un-diagnosed digestive issues, you might want to try eating more fiber. Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive tract and weight. Fiber is very basically undigested particles and both soluble (dissolves) and insoluble (moves things through your digestive system) are important in helping you digest and eliminate properly, lowering cholesterol, maintaining proper blood sugar levels and keeping you full.
Fiber is found in many vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains, as well as most nuts and seeds. Meat and fats do not contain enough fiber alone to keep you regulated. Getting fiber from good sources, such as some of those above, will help maintain optimal blood sugar and digestion.
As mentioned before, all fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates and eliminating them essentially helps you eliminate the bulk of your vitamin intake. While you do get amino acids from red meat, you're not getting the necessary requirements of micronutrients from fats and meat alone. Oats, whole grains, melons, squashes and all other starchy and non-other starchy vegetables are essential for maintaining a healthy body.
4. They give you energy
As mentioned in the above definition of a carb, carbs provide your body and brain with the energy it needs to sustain your daily efforts. Without carbohydrates, you are depriving your body of what it needs to work. But what about ketosis you ask? Well, you can get energy from fat but only if you are truly in ketosis. You MUST know if you are truly in ketosis in order to be burning fat as opposed to just depleting all of your glyogen stores and hovering somewhere in the middle of low carb and high fat.
Carbs will give you the energy you need to exercise, run around doing errands, perform well at your job and do just about everything.
Low carb can be used successfully in conjunction with certain medical disorders and works well for people suffering from many auto-immune conditions.
The Keto diet is not the same as a low-carb diet. In the keto diet, the body is running off of ketones which are produced by eating enough dietary fat. That being said, some carbs from veggies are important on the keto diet for vitamins.
Women should aim for about 40% of their dietary calories to come from carbs and eat AT LEAST 100-150 grams a day.