Carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients. While its intake contributes energy to the body, surplus amounts of carbs can lead to unhealthy weight gain and other health complications.
In this post, we discuss carbohydrates, their types, sources, and importance. We explain how carbs impact your weight and what percentage of your daily calorie goal should ideally constitute carbs. Afterward, we elaborate on the carb calculator and how you can use it to ensure your daily carbs consumption is healthy and adequate.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients, typically described as containing hydrogen and oxygen in a 2:1 ratio (same as water). They are essentially sugar molecules, found naturally in plant-based foods.
Based on the chemical bonds and the number of sugar units, carbohydrates are classified as monosaccharides and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides include glucose, mannose, fructose, and ribose. These provide short-term energy.
On the other hand, polysaccharides offer long-term energy and include starch, cellulose, glycogen, etc.
When it comes to diet, carbs are divided into three main types – sugar (simple carbs), starch, and fiber (complex carbohydrates).
Here are some natural foods and their carb content:
Food (100 grams)
Vegetables (ex: potatoes, green peas, carrots)
Fruit (ex: apples, berries, dates, etc.))
Beans (raw pinto beans)
Good and Bad Carb Intake
Natural carbs like sugar, starch, and cellulose are considered good carbs as they are healthy and important for the body.
On the other hand, processed items like fizzy drinks, white bread, pastries, sodas, etc., have refined, added sugars, which is absorbed in the bloodstream as natural sugar and starch.
These bad carbs are responsible for several health problems, particularly diabetes, unhealthy weight loss as well as obesity, and heart diseases.
This effect is mainly due to the high glycemic index of the carbs in packaged products.
Glycolic index or GI is a relative figure that compares the ability of a carbohydrate to increase blood glucose. Simply put, GI refers to how quickly a carb breaks down in the body.
The added sugar in bad carb is refined and hence quickly metabolized and absorbed. Therefore, it rapidly increases blood sugar.
This explains why having a lot of processed food is linked with severe health complications.
Importance Of Carbohydrate Intake
Other macronutrients, like proteins, are absolutely essential because your body needs them to synthesize enzymes, which are required to carry out biochemical reactions of metabolism.
However, carbs are an important energy source and have many key functions in the human body.
Carbohydrates are a go-to nutrient for an instant energy. Glucose solutions and sugary foods result in immediate high blood sugar are often offered to athletes as a quick energy dose.
In the body, carbs are broken down into simple sugars, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.
After being used as energy, excess carbs (glucose) are converted into glycogen and stored in the liver. Using insulin, some carbs are also converted into fatty acids, which form lipids that are stored in adipose tissue (fat tissue).
There is significant evidence suggesting carbohydrates play a role in brain development, as well as in improving cognitive performance.
The brain controls the entire body and hence requires more energy than any other organ of the body. Due to its easy accessibility, and fast-acting nature, carbs are readily available, and therefore, the brain consumes approximately 110 -145 grams of carbs you eat in a day.
Carbohydrate intake is therefore associated with better brain aging and long-lasting short and long-term memory.
However, it is crucial to mention that your diet should always only include required carbs, as a diet rich in carbs can lead to neurological disorders like Parkinson’s.
Dietary cellulose or fiber is indigestible as our body lacks the enzymes required for its catabolism (breakdown).
Fiber (complex carbs) is present in natural foods like bran, nuts, peas, cabbage, apple skin, etc. When eaten, the fiber passes through GIT and absorbs water on the way. This makes cellulose (fiber) bulky.
The resultant gel-like substance applies pressure on the intestinal walls, which increases bowel movements, thus relieving constipation.
Note that this laxative effect is limited to complex carbs only, as sugar and starch have high energy content and are correlated with constipation.
Research proves that carbs can reduce the risk of chronic heart disease (CHD) by 10 to 20%.
This is particularly true for dietary fiber (cellulose) as it does not break down, but keeps you feeling full, which indirectly reduces fat intake. This helps prevent plaque formation in coronary (cardiac) arteries.
Additionally, fibers also reduce inflammation, which, again, helps keep CVS healthy.
It is critical to note that these effects are limited to an ideal and adequate carbohydrate intake, as excess carbs or bad carbs pose a risk of triggering a cardiovascular disease.
Lipids are a macronutrient and organic compounds built of several fatty acid units. They, too, are an energy source and important for the absorption of micronutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K, immunity, cognitive functions, sexual activity, reproduction, vision, etc.
Lipid is metabolized in the body via a process called Krebs’ cycle. Carb acts as an important substrate for Krebs’ cycle and is thus important for the regulation of lipid metabolism.
Fats are stored in the body in adipose tissues. When you’re fasting or are severely energy depleted, the body breaks down body fat in ketone bodies, which are then used as an energy source.
However, ketone bodies lead to symptoms like fatigue, nausea, muscle soreness, and irritability. This condition is called ketosis.
Appropriate carb intake ensures an adequate supply of energy at all times, which by extension, prevents ketosis.
Carb Intake and Weight
As we discussed, excess carbs (sugar and scratch) are broken down and stored as fats. Fats make up most of our body weight. Therefore, eating a diet rich in carbohydrates can lead to significant weight gain.
The same goes for processed foods, as they have a high glycemic index, which is why they are linked to obesity.
However, it is different for dietary cellulose (fibers) as they are indigestible and induce satiety. Therefore, a high-fiber diet is considered an effective weight-loss strategy.
How Many Carbs Do You Need To Eat Daily?
Crabs should constitute 45% to 65% of daily calories.
According to the general guidelines, women and men daily need 2000 and 2500 total calories, respectively.
We can use this to calculate how many grams of carbohydrates you need to eat daily. Since a gram of carbs yields four calories, you need approximately 250 to 350 calories a day.
As fibers cannot be metabolized, the above calculations for your daily carb requirement are understandably applicable to sugar and starch only, i.e.,
Total carbs – Fiber = Net carbs
Free online carbs calculators are used to know how many carbs you need to eat in a day.
A carbs calculator asks following personal details:
- Age: Energy requirement varies for different age groups. Required carbohydrate content varies accordingly.
- Sex: Men and women have different body compositions. Men have higher percentage of muscle mass and burn fats more quickly in comparison. On the other hand, women have more body fat and have better metabolism of micronutrients. This affects carb breakdown and metabolism as well.
- Height and Current Weight: Calorie requirement is greatly influenced by body shape, height, and weight. Additionally, in the case of overweight or underweight individuals, the calculator adjusts the carb intake required to get to the normal BMI range.
- Activity Level: Exercise burns calories, and therefore, the calculator asks you to rate your physical activity level. If you train hard, you burn more calories, and hence, you need more carbs.
Based on the data you enter, the calculator estimates adequate carb intake for you.
Once you have your results, you can plan a diet accordingly. This mathematical estimation allows you to incorporate proteins and fats in food while also helping you attain your ideal body weight and fitness goals.
For example, if you want to lose weight, adjust your protein and fat intake with estimated carbohydrate requirement, while also limiting your required, daily calorie count to suit your goal.
On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, you probably need to increase your protein and fat intake, while sticking to the healthy diet (having enough carbs content as estimated by the calculator)