Recently, registered dietitian @michellepillepich on TikTok made a video about how your brain alone needs the equivalent of seven slices of bread a day. Additionally, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found the brain uses about 20 percent of the calories you consume—and that doesn’t even account for your other organs, the energy you burn moving around, or other bodily functions that require carbs and calories, such as hair and nail growth.
@michellepillepich And thats just your brain!! Consider yohr whole body (and then add in running!) and its wayyy more #carbsdontmakeyoufat #GenshinImpact33 #carbsarelife #carbsoncarbs #runtok #runnerthings #dietitiansoftiktok #intuitiveeating ♬ original sound - heyy
So how many carbs does your body really need? (Hint: more than diet culture would ever lead you to believe.)
How to know if you’re getting enough carbs
First, it’s important to note that for some (or maybe even most) of us, counting the amount of carbs we eat every day can trigger disordered thoughts about food at best and restriction at worst. If you suspect that could be the case for you, consider working with an anti-diet dietitian to ensure you get the amount of carbs suggested without having to count them. Additionally, listening to your body and paying attention to how well it functions is a good measure.
If you do feel comfortable with numbers, though, aim for 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal (and three meals a day), plus additional carbs at snacktime, according to Sammy Previte, RD, certified intuitive eating registered dietitian and founder of Find Food Freedom. She explains doing so ensures your blood sugar will stay stable and give you enough energy for the day.
Another option is to count how many servings of carbs are on your plate. “As a general rule, I try to aim for at least three to four servings of carbohydrates per meal, and from a variety of sources,” says Whitney Trotter, RD, a registered dietitian at Project Heal. “This can come from grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, fun foods, and so on.” (FYI, some gut-friendly carbs are oatmeal, potatoes, pulses, bananas, and yogurt.)
“As a general rule, I try to aim for at least three to four servings of carbohydrates per meal, and from a variety of sources. This can come from grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy, fun foods, and so on.”
—Whitney Trotter, RD
Otherwise—or in addition to that—you can look for signs you aren’t getting enough carbs. Previte lists:
- Being unable to stop thinking about food
- Noticing thoughts in your head like “I shouldn’t eat that” or “I’m ‘bad’ if I eat that”
- Constantly eating to a point of physical discomfort when you finally allow yourself to eat carbs
- Avoiding carbs all day to “be good,” then feeling out of control around carbs and food at the end of the day
Being mindful of and respecting those signs is important for all of us. And not just once, but throughout the day, every day. The number of carbs that satisfy your brain and body one day may not be enough the next. Plus, all bodies are different and healthy eating isn’t just about giving your body what it “needs,” but about what it wants, too.
What do carbs do, anyway?
As registered dietitian Claire Chewning, RD, half-jokes, carbs are a major source of joy in eating and a source of vitamins and minerals. Besides that, and as we’ve mentioned, carbs are also crucial in sustaining your mental and physical energy. “The brain and body are constantly using energy throughout the day, from simple tasks such as getting dressed and typing on a computer to providing energy for our organs and system to function,” Trotter says. “There are so many systems in our body that require energy to maintain basic homeostasis—endocrine, digestive, respiratory, and so many others—that people don’t realize.”
“The brain and body are constantly using energy throughout the day, from simple tasks such as getting dressed and typing on a computer to providing energy for our organs and system to function,” Trotter says.
Further, that only accounts for what your body needs. What it wants is valid, too! While diet culture makes us believe we need to “justify” or “account for” our carbs, Trotter assures us this isn’t the truth.
Once carbs enter your body, they break down into glucose (sugar) that serves as energy. “Think about getting in a car with a gas tank on ‘E’—you wouldn’t be able to drive and the car would not be able to function properly,” Previte says. “When our body has adequate fuel (aka carbs), our organs are able to function and we are able to enjoy our lives because our bodies are properly nourished.”
The risks you run by not getting enough carbs
Not only do you want to avoid running your body on no carbs, but avoid consuming too few, too. Previte says if you don’t get enough carbs, you’ll experience irritability, difficulty focusing, feeling cold, obsessing over calories/portions/food/macros, and more.
“Any time a patient complains of dizziness, low energy, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration and focus, I immediately ask them about their intake and if they are getting enough in sources of carbs,” Trotter adds. In other words, without enough carbs, you won’t be able to get work done, partake fully in exercise, enjoy time with friends, or…just about anything, really.
So, long story short: If you’re ever asking yourself whether you should eat that second breadstick you’re craving at Olive Garden, the answer is likely yes.
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