Carb counting – This question is so individual. Children can tolerate more carbs than adults as they are more insulin sensitive than we are. I allow my children to have fruit (but not to excess) and some treats when out, or at friends. I am, however, really quite strict when it come to carbs as I know by restricting them it allows my weight to remain stable, my appetite is controlled, my energy levels are high and my concentration is pretty much regular throughout the day.
As soon as I start increasing my carb intake, it stimulates my appetite and my weight creeps up. If you have a specific goal to address such as weight loss, lowering blood pressure, lowering triglycerides etc, then you should be quite strict until the problem has resolved or the weight is lost. Once this happens, then you can increase your carbs slowly until you feel it is affecting your weight, hunger etc. This is a good stepwise approach to find out what works for you.
I started at first by cutting out the obvious sugars, cakes, bread and treats. My weight loss stalled, so I became stricter. Don’t think you have to eat my way. If it is too strict, it will be unsustainable . You won’t want to continue, your children certainly won’t want to continue and then its back to old eating habits.
As an example, I try to aim for less than 50g carbs/day. On a good day I can just about get down to 35g, but it may get up to 75g or 100g when I eat too many low carb foods or have an extra latte. But compared to the average diet that is easily 300g, I think I’m doing OK and it works for me. Carb counting really helps you figure out how sensitive to carbs you are.
Protein – aim for 1.5-2g protein/kg body weight/day. Examples of protein quantities are – chicken drumstick is 11g, chicken breast 30g, most fish fillets 22g, pork loin 29g, bacon 3g, egg 6g, almonds 1/4 cup is 8g, milk 250ml glass is 8.5g, yogurt pot 5g, 2cm cube cheese is 2g. Too little protein and appetite is increased, too much and the body will convert it to glucose. I don’t worry too much about counting protein as I don’t seem to eat it to excess. Just be aware that meat, milk, cheese, yogurts all add up by the end of the day.
Fat – aim for 80% of your calories to come from fat. Most people imagine it is 80% of your food, but it is 80% of your calories. What this means in real terms is that if you are eating a vegetable based diet with meat and protein, the majority of calories have come from the fat from the meat, oils added while cooking, dressings, dairy products etc.
Don’t go for the low fat options as they usually replace the fat with carbs. I’ve given examples of this in the pantry guide. At the beginning I started by cutting down on my carbs first and then slowly increasing the fat I consumed. If you continue to eat a moderate or high carb diet and increase your fat, you are back to eating a standard unhealthy diet (SAD Standard American Diet) and you will put on weight. You must get your carbohydrate count down to be able to increase the fat. This is the biggest complaint when people start changing their diet, they increase their fats but do not REDUCE their carbs enough then start putting on weight.
The stepwise approach is to either
- give up everything on the ladder below, then slowly reintroduce food groups until weight loss stalls, hunger increases or any other symptom which shows you cannot tolerate an increased amount of carbohydrates OR
- I started gradually. I gave up the most obvious sources of sugars and carbohydrates, especially the processed ones. So no more juice, cakes, bread, pasta, rice etc. This may be all it takes for some people. I then went further and cut out all sources of wheat, legumes, grains, fruits and root vegetables.
Give up the following in a stepwise approach –
Sugar→pasta, rice, bread, root vegetables→wheat/grains→fruit→legumes
Your tolerance to carbs is dependent on many factors such as weight, activity, insulin sensitivity, metabolic state, appetite regulation and other health issues you may be trying to resolve. So for a fit and active, slim person who has no problem controlling their appetite or weight, they can tolerate a lot more carbs than I can. Children can tolerate fruit and occasional treats, whereas I know that starts to affect my weight. It’s a bit of trial and error and it may take some weeks/months to see what suits you. Reassess your carb level if your weight loss stops or you have reached a happy weight.
Should you restrict your carbs even if you are slim? Your body composition, where you store your fat, is a crucial factor. Those who carry excess weight mainly around the tummy are more likely to be insulin resistant. Apple shape (band of tummy fat) should be more aware of their carb intake compared with pear shaped (mainly bottom heavy). So if you have always had skinny legs but notice a tummy starting to appear, then watch your carbs as it is this visceral (tummy) fat which is more dangerous to your internal organs.
Benefits of reducing carbs
- every person will benefit from some form of carbohydrate restriction.
- improves apetite regulation
- increases energy levels so you actually want to be active
- improves blood lipid ratios, blood pressure
- weight loss
- reduce vascular inflammation, which is the cause of most modern diseases, and is linked to CVD, diabetes, dementia, cancer
- decreasing carbs increases the fat transporting enzymes AND increase the rate at which the mitochondria (power houses of your cells) utilize fat
- increase whole, real foods leading to an increase in nutrients
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