Carbs—they can be so confusing! Without a doubt, the most common nutrition questions I get from Brain Warriors are about carbohydrates—which ones to eat, which ones to avoid, when to eat them, and how much to eat. I hear you. To clear up some of the confusion, here’s my Brain Warrior’s Guide to Carbs…
Carbs are not the enemy.
Contrary to what high-protein and high-fat diet advocates
claim, “carbohydrate” is not a dirty word. In fact, carbs are essential to life
and to brain health.
carbs include sugar, bread, pasta, white rice, potatoes, and baked goods. Also
known as refined carbs, they are lacking in nutrients, make your blood sugar
spike (then crash), cause insulin resistance, trigger inflammation, and are
associated with depression.
Go for smart carbs.
carbs are vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and gluten-free pseudo-grains like
quinoa and wild rice. These foods are rich in fiber and cause a slower rise in
blood sugar than “unwise” carbs like sugar and refined flours. They are
also full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which reduce the
risk of developing physical diseases, as well as depression, anxiety, and
dementia. Try to use vegetables as your primary carbs. And when you do opt for
low-sugar fruits or gluten-free complex carbs (like quinoa, wild rice, or
gluten-free oats), have them as a side to a meal that includes healthy fats,
lean protein, and lots of veggies.
personal note, sweet potatoes are one of my favorite smart carbs. They can be a
wonderful addition to the diet for most people as they are very high
in beta-carotene, manganese, b-vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber, and
have been found to improve blood sugar regulation.
Try these smart carbs (click each for a simple recipe):
to eat carbs depends on your individual needs.
scientists say no carbs in the evening, others recommend them because they promote
relaxation and sleep. As with many nutrition recommendations, it largely
depends on the individual. For example, if you tend to be the anxious type,
having small amounts of complex carbs throughout the day may be helpful. If you
have trouble sleeping, eating some sweet potato with dinner can be helpful. If
you’re going to do an endurance workout—think running a marathon, not walking
on the treadmill for half an hour—you may want to fuel up on smart carbs
beforehand. Take note this isn’t a license to overindulge in refined or sugary
carbs—a mound of pasta, a giant plain bagel, or a massive muffin. Stick to
to calculate how many grams of carbs you need.
amount of carbs you need is highly dependent on the amount of activity you
do in a day, as well as on your health history and personal goals. As a general
rule, people eating a balanced diet (not a very low-carb diet) need a
minimum of 3-4 g per kg of body weight. (To calculate kg, divide your
weight in pounds by 2.2.) For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, your weight in kilograms
is 68 kg, and your carb requirement is about 200-250 grams per day. For highly
active people, sports exercise specialists recommend at least 5 g of carbs per
kg of body weight (and often much higher levels for endurance athletes). In
this example, a 150 lb highly active person would need about 340 grams of carbs
about low-carb diets? There is a growing body of research showing that
lower-carb eating (under 100 g/day) or ultra-low-carb eating (under 50 g/day) can
be beneficial for brain health. However, you can achieve similar brain health
benefits by simply fasting for at least 13 hours between dinner and breakfast
and eating a whole-foods diet during eating hours.
what percentage of your diet should come from carbs.
Brain Warriors find it easier to think about carb consumption based on percentages
rather than calculating grams. If you fall into this category, understand that
nutritionists typically calculate protein requirements first, followed by carb
needs, and then leave the remainder of the diet to healthy fats. This usually
ends up with 20-30% of foods coming from proteins, 60-70% from complex “smart” carbs,
and 10-15% from healthy fats.
if you are eating a low-carb diet using primarily fat for energy, your need for
healthy dietary fats increases greatly. So there’s not a one-size fits all
solution, but this gives you a general idea of how to calculate your needs. If
you need more personalized support, consider making an appointment with one of
can have a strong and almost immediate impact on your brain.
Eating carbs affects your moods, anxiety levels, and cognitive function. Consuming refined carbs can ramp up anxiety, mess with your moods, and give you brain fog, while focusing on “smart” fruits and vegetables makes you calmer, happier, and more clear-headed—almost immediately. Some research shows that no antidepressant works this fast!
part, these effects are due to carbs’ impact on serotonin production. Simple
carbs provide a quick rise in this “be happy, don’t worry” neurotransmitter,
but long-term consequences include inflammation, which can eventually impede
serotonin production. It can also disrupt gut health, which is critical because
the gut is where two-thirds of our serotonin is made. On the flip side, complex
“smart” carbs help promote gut health and provide a steadier supply of
serotonin to keep you feeling good.
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