Hey, it’s Dr Brian, Mowll the diabetes coach, and I’m back today with another episode of on call with Dr. Mowll. Today’s question comes from Candy and she asks, how many carbs is okay for one day?
Well, that’s a great question. Candy, a simple question it may seem, but actually much more complex than it seems on the surface. Carbohydrates certainly are important to track because carbohydrates more than any other macronutrient will convert into glucose which will have the most profound impact on our blood sugar and your insulin levels.
When you eat carbohydrates: rich foods like starches and sugars, things like fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes, grains like rice, wheat, buckwheat and oats, as well as beans and legumes. These all convert eventually into sugar. Even starchy foods like white potatoes, which actually have very little sugar, will have a net glycemic impact that’s very high because the starch is just long chains of glucose and as soon as that starch gets into your mouth, your enzyme salivary amylase starts to break it down into shorter chains and then eventually into glucose molecules.
And that glucose gets right into your bloodstream and will raise your blood sugar. Not only does it raise your blood sugar, but it causes an insulin surge. Insulin, of course, is the hormone released by the pancreas to help deal with all that sugar in your blood. So your body, when you eat sugar and carbohydrates, has to deal with those. Now there’s another type of carbohydrate called fiber, which does not have much of an impact on our blood sugar, so when we calculate carbohydrates in food, we have to look at not just the sugar content, but the total carbs, the fiber, and the sugar. In fact, really, you can just focus on total carbohydrates and fiber because the difference between those two will give you your net carbs and your net carbs essentially is what’s going to end up as sugar. So a food might have 25 grams of total carbohydrates and five grams of fiber. That leaves you with 20 grams of net carbs. Now, even if only five of that is sugar, the other 15 then would be starch and that again will quickly break down to sugar in your system. So the net carbs, in this case, 20 grams is really what you want to pay attention to.
So back to Candy’s question, how much carbohydrate is okay for one day? While that really varies from one person to the next, if you’re trying to follow a nutritional ketogenic diet, then you’re probably going to have to get your carbohydrates down to 20 or 30 grams per day or less. That’s net carbs. If you’re just trying to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then you might be okay closer to 100 grams or less. We start most of our clients on about 50 to 75 grams of net carbs per day and we split that up of course throughout the day.
So you don’t want all of that at one meal. You want to spread that out so that if you’re eating two or three meals per day, you’re getting somewhere around maybe 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate per meal. And again, that’s net carbs. We also don’t want too much sugar because, even if you are keeping your net carbs down, but it’s all sugar that is going to absorb into your gut faster than starch will and that will have a higher glycemic spike, will raise your sugar faster, it will get a larger insulin surge from that and that still causes more problems. So that’s something that is sometimes termed the glycemic index of foods, is how quickly those foods will raise your blood sugar. And we want a low glycemic index. So a fruit like berries for example, because it’s relatively low in sugar, a little higher in fiber has a lower glycemic index than a fruit like pineapple, which is much higher in sugar and lower in fiber.
The last thing we want to consider is your personal carb tolerance. Now, if you have diabetes or prediabetes, you are probably carbohydrate or glucose intolerant. That means that you can’t handle the amount of glucose or carbs, that perhaps someone without carbohydrate intolerance could, someone who perhaps doesn’t have any type of metabolic disadvantage. So if you have a lower carbohydrate tolerance, that means that you need to watch your carbohydrate intake more closely. The best way to tell this is to get a glucose meter or glucometer and to check your blood sugar before and after you eat. If you check your blood sugar before and it’s normal, say it’s around 85 and you check it after you eat. Let’s say you have something with 30 grams of net carbs and your blood sugar jumps by 20 or 30 or 40 points, you’ve probably exceeded your carbohydrate tolerance.
So you need to cut down a bit at least per meal. And we can do the same thing per day. So you don’t want your pre and post blood sugar, a pre and post meal blood sugar to be more than about 20 or 30 points different. So if you check it before and it’s say 90, you don’t want it to go above 120, 130 most, and again, the lower the better. If it’s 90 before and 100 after, that’s perfect. If it’s 100 before or 90 before and 110 after that’s acceptable, you don’t want it to be above 120. Again, if it’s 100 before, you don’t want it to be above 130, so about a 30 point Max difference. And that’s how you can monitor your carbohydrate tolerance. If your blood sugar is going up after meals very high, you want to cut down on the amount of carbs you’re consuming per meal, have higher fiber carbohydrates, things like nuts and seeds.
Perhaps you can tolerate beans like lentils, but maybe you need to eat less and you may not be able to eat fruit or starchy vegetables at all. Last thing I’ll mention is it’s important to buffer your carbohydrates with fat, fiber, and protein. So make sure if you are eating some carbohydrates, let’s say you’re eating some starch, starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, or you’re eating some legumes like lentils. Make sure you include some protein foods with that, make sure you include lots of fiber. Now the beans have fiber, starchy vegetables don’t, so you may need to add some fibers, veggies, or some nuts and seeds as well, or some supplemental fiber and some healthy fats. Healthy fats, especially taken before your carbohydrates, are going to help to buffer the glucose absorption from the carbohydrate rich foods.
So Candy, I hope that helps. It’s much more complicated than it might seem, but hopefully those guidelines will give you some structure on how many carbohydrates you can have per day and for everybody else. I hope this helped you. This was on call with Dr Mowll. I’m Dr Brian Mowll, The Diabetes Coach, and I’ll see you back next time with another video.