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How to Count Carbs the Smart Way

Easy ways to manage your carbohydrate intake

(This article appeared previously on KathySmith.com)

You hear a lot of conflicting advice these days about eating carbohydrates — whether to adopt a low-carb diet, eat only certain types of carbs or eliminate them altogether.

What's right for you depends on your activity level and your fitness goals. An elite athlete needs more carbs to fuel her lifestyle than someone who spends most of her day sitting at a computer.  

Finding Your Range

Here’s a ballpark range of what’s appropriate, safe and effective, depending on your nutritional goals. Once you decide what level you want to maintain, read the tips below for regulating your carb intake. 

Restrictive Zone (0-50 grams per day)
If you’re trying to lose a lot of water weight in a couple of days, cut your carbs below 50 grams per day. This isn’t easy to do, and very restrictive, but any professional model or bodybuilder knows it’s the fastest way to lean out in a short amount of time. This is when your body goes into ketosis, a metabolic state where you’re burning your own fat as a main source of energy. But ketosis doesn’t come without its risks — so talk to your doctor before making any major changes in your diet.
The Sweet Spot (50-100 grams per day)
If you’re staying in this range, chances are good that you’ll achieve healthy weight loss.

Gradual Weight Gain (50-300 grams per day)
Even though this represents the low end of a typical American’s daily carb intake, the truth is that this number can (depending on the types of carbs you’re eating and your activity level) lead to gradual weight gain.

The Danger Zone (More than 300 grams per day) 
If you’re eating in this range, you're almost guaranteed to experience continuous weight gain.
4 Easy Ways to Cut Carbs
Since carb-stuffing is nearly endemic to our nature, here are four suggestions for cutting back:

1. Read labels and look for fiber. The carbohydrate count of the food you eat is usually right there in plain black lettering. If it contains over 30 grams in a small serving, with little to no fiber content, you might want to try a healthier option. And remember, the higher that fiber count is within those carbs, the better. I could go on about the benefits of fiber, but that’s for another article. For now, just know: Carbs with a high fiber content are generally considered the “good carbs.”

2. Focus on good carbs. Most fresh fruits and vegetables fall into the “good carb” category. Fruits such as berries, cherries, grapefruit, prunes, dried apricots, apples, oranges, pears, peaches and grapes are excellent choices. For veggies, include dark leafy greens as well as cruciferous choices like cauliflower, bok choy, brussels sprouts and kale. And don’t forget your legumes: garbanzo beans, pinto beans and peas are all weight-loss-friendly foods.

3. Get your rest. No matter how well you eat and how much you exercise, your body will shut down without sufficient amounts of sleep. Take up yoga or meditation to enhance relaxation, reduce stress, regain composure and help build up your energy for the next point…

4. Exercise regularly. Since carbs are a source of instant energy, it is important to use that energy up on a daily basis. Otherwise the unused energy will eventually convert to fat. Cardio workouts help keep the body’s circulatory system keep in tip-top shape and also enhance your body’s natural fat-burning capabilities.
Carb-Cutting Made Easy
When it comes to foods, some carbs are better than others. Carbs with fiber can minimize the blood sugar spike commonly triggered by other low-fiber carbs. Here are the carb and fiber counts for common foods to give you an idea how they compare:
Good Carbs:
Food Amount Carbs (gms) Fiber
Apricot 1 medium 4g .7g
Oatmeal 1/2 cup cooked 12g 1.3g
Apple 1 medium 19g 3g
Kale 1/2 cup steamed 4g 1.3g
Asparagus  10 spears 5g 8g
Sweet Potato 1 cup 27g 4g

Not-So-Good Carbs:
Food Amount Carbs (gms) Fiber
Soda 1 can 36g 0g
Chocolate cake 1 slice 35g 2g
Gatorade 1 bottle (20 oz) 34g 0g
Mocha Frappucino 1 tall (12 oz)  44g 0g
Cinnamon raisin bagel 1 medium 52g 0g
Low-fat blueberry yogurt 1 cup (6 oz)  12g 0g
Spaghetti 1 cup cooked 43g 2.5g
Brown rice 3/4 cup cooked 32g 1g

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