Carbohydrates: How much is too much?
Would you like to lose weight? Do you know how many carbohydrates you should be eating in a day to achieve your goal? In this post I aim to provide some answers.
Why do I keep focusing on carbs? Well, we know that carbs in our diet, which include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit, cereals, yoghurt and veggies turn to sugar in our bodies. Our bodies deal with the excess sugar by releasing the hormone insulin. Insulin shuttles fat into your cells for storage. So, if you want to lose weight, the key is to keep the amount of insulin in your body as low as possible. The only way to do that is to be careful with carbs. But what does “be careful” with carbs really mean for YOU on a practical level?
Your level of carb consumption will depend on your activity level, if you want to lose or maintain your weight and will also depend on how “carb resistant” you are. Some people are just able to burn carbs for fuel more easily than others. Then you have the poor suckers like me who just have to look at a carb and my thighs expand in anticipation. So finding the right amount of carbs that will help you to achieve your goals will require some experimentation.
Mark Sisson in his book, The Primal Blueprint, speaks about The Carbohydrate Curve. I found his explanation very helpful so I would like to summarise it for you. Please note that the average daily carb levels he outlines below assumes that you are also getting sufficient protein and healthy fats and are doing some Primal exercise.
Grams of carbs per day
- 0 – 50 grams : Ketosis Zone.
Excellent for rapid fat loss. Although perfectly safe it is not recommended for prolonged periods for most people due to some restriction of plant foods.
- 50 – 100 grams: Sweet Spot for weight loss.
Steadily drop excess body fat by minimising insulin production. Enables 0.5 to 1 kilogram per week weight loss with minimally restrictive satisfying meals.
- 100 – 150 grams: Primal Maintenance Zone.
Once you have achieved your weight loss goals, you can maintain your weight quite easily while enjoying abundant vegetables, fruits and other primal foods.
- 150 – 300 grams: Insiduous Weight Gain Zone.
This is where many people who eat a “healthy diet” find themselves steadily gaining weight despite their efforts due to frequent intake of bread, pasta, cereals, rice, potatoes – even whole grains. Even by trying to reduce calories and cut the fat people can still slowly but surely gain weight year on year.
- 300 + grams: Danger Zone.
At this level, all but the most extreme exercisers will tend to produce excessive insulin and store fat. In this zone you increase your risk of obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
“Eliminating grains and sugars from your diet could be the number one most beneficial thing
you ever do for your health.” – Mark Sisson
OK, at this point I can hear you saying, “Well that’s all very well but what does that really mean for me in practical terms? I still have no idea what I should eat in a day!”
Lets get practical
I have attempted to give you examples of daily meals which would roughly add up to the number of grams of carbs for the relevant category. You might get a shock, but please read on.
0 – 50 grams : Ketosis Zone.
- Breakfast – Eggs and bacon with half an avocado
- Snack – Small handful of macadamia nuts
- Lunch – Roast chicken leftovers and a mixed salad with olive oil dressing
- Snack – Bullet coffee
- Supper – Fish, sautéed spinach, asparagus and gem squash with melted butter
- Dessert – Small handful of strawberries and whipped cream
- ~ 30 grams of carbs
50 – 100 grams: Sweet Spot for weight loss
- Breakfast – Cheese omelette, grilled tomato and a coffee with milk
- Snack – Half a small banana with full fat Greek yoghurt
- Lunch – Tuna and avocado salad with olive oil dressing
- Snack – Apple and a handful of raw almonds
- Supper – Pork chops served on a bed of cabbage with a courgettes and red pepper stir fry.
- Dessert – Half a cup of mixed berries and whipped cream
- ~ 80 grams of carbs
100 – 150 grams: Primal Maintenance Zone
- Breakfast – Scrambled eggs, bacon, wilted spinach, fresh blueberries and coffee with milk
- Snack – Handful of macadamia nuts, half a banana with full fat Greek yoghurt
- Lunch – Homemade mince-meat burger patty with salad and a small sweet potato
- Snack – Apple and a handful of raw nuts
- Supper – Salmon, roasted carrots, cauliflower mash, broccoli and a glass of wine
- Dessert: 2 squares of dark chocolate
- ~ 120 grams of carbs
150 – 300 grams: Insiduous Weight Gain Zone
- Breakfast – Muesli with skim milk, fresh orange juice, a banana and coffee with milk
- Snack – Apple and a bran muffin
- Lunch – Tuna mayonnaise sandwich on whole-grain bread with fruit juice
- Snack – Sweetened fat-free fruit yoghurt
- Supper – Roast lamb and gravy, rice, butternut and peas and a glass of wine.
- Dessert – Fruit salad and “lite” custard
- ~ 270 grams of carbs
300 + grams: Danger Zone
- Breakfast – Coco Pops with milk
- Snack – Blueberry muffin and a banana
- Lunch – Spaghetti bolognaise, a bread roll and a Coke
- Snack – Packet of crisps and a chocolate bar
- Supper – Pizza and beer
- Dessert – Chocolate brownie with ice-cream
- ~ 450 grams of carbs
I hope Mark Sisson’s Carbohydrate Curve has been helpful for you to identify how you might need to adjust what you eat in a day. Remember, eating primally is definitely NOT about going hungry or feeling deprived. It is all about making good, healthy choices, eliminating grains, eating a good quantity of healthy fats and keeping the grams of carbs (from fruit, veg and some dairy) in a range that will help you to achieve your goals. Go check out my page titled The Basics for more information and food lists.
Hint: I use www.MyFitnessPal.com to track my daily carb consumption and there are others available online.
Reference: The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson (I highly recommend his book as an excellent read)