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Maybe You're Feeling Foggy Because You Need Carbs

By: Olivia Bubri, MS, RDN, LD

“Carbs are the enemy.”

“Carbs make me gain weight.”

“I don’t actually need carbs, right?”

Whether you’ve read it in a magazine, seen it on television, or heard it from your neighbor, everyone’s got something to say about carbs. So what’s the actual science behind these claims and what do we need carbs for anyway?

The Science Behind Carbs

Now, let’s talk about carbs. Carbohydrates, otherwise known as carbs, are the body’s primary energy source. And no, we’re not talking about pastries, cookies or cake kind of carbs.

We’re talking about complex carbs - the ones that come from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and dairy products. That's right, all these important and healthy foods consist of carbs. These carbs naturally include other added benefits such as dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Carbs are broken down into glucose and are then used as fuel. It’s actually easier for our body to get glucose and fuel from carbohydrates when compared to fat or protein. Not only that, but our brains specifically prefer glucose as their main source of energy.

When you consistently eat a low-carbohydrate diet, you may start to notice symptoms of low blood glucose, which is basically your body screaming for fuel. That's because the essential carbs in our diet help keep our blood glucose levels within a healthy range, which is essential to provide energy for all of our cells and especially our brains.

When we haven’t eaten for several hours, our blood glucose levels tend to drop and our body will begin to rely on glycogen, or stored glucose, as a source of energy. But that only goes so far - these additional stores can be quickly depleted when we are not otherwise consuming adequate carbohydrates. Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, sluggish, foggy brained, confused or shaky may all be symptoms of low blood glucose.

Balanced Eating is the Key to Success

News flash: our bodies actually love and need carbohydrates.

News flash: our bodies actually love and need carbohydrates. Contrary to popular belief, low-carb diets have not been proven to result in long-term weight loss. And it's obvious why -- as we mentioned before, these diets are unsustainable over the long-term.

Take a minute to think about your own daily eating patterns. Do you often feel energized and alert or foggy and s l u g g i s h? If you’re constantly falling asleep at your desk or have a hard time concentrating, you may want to consider adding some fiber-rich carbs to your diet. Bonus points if you pair these carbs with lean protein to sustain your energy even longer. Think whole grain crackers with peanut butter, apple slices with string cheese or carrots and a Greek yogurt-based dip.

It’s important to remember that a balanced diet includes a variety of all three macronutrients: carbs, proteins, and lipids/fats. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has set specific ranges for each, titled the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range.

The Institute of Medicine recommends:

45-65% of total calories come from carbohydrates
10-35% of total calories come from protein
20-35% of total calories come from fat

However, dietary patterns are not a one-size-fits all solution and these ranges may vary based on your current lifestyle and medical history. Setting up a call with a Good Measure Meals Registered Dietitian Nutrition Coach can help you create an eating pattern that works best for you.

So next time someone starts talking down about carbs, simply smile to yourself and mentally high-five your powered-up brain as you continue munching your broccoli or your Sweet Potato Fries or your Raspberry Overnight Oats.

They're probably just not thinking straight because they haven't eaten their carbs, right?


References:

Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.; February 2015.
2005 DGAC report - Part D. Science Base, Sect. 5. Carbohydrates. 2005 DGAC report - Part D. Science Base, Sect. 5. Carbohydrates. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report/html/d5_carbs.htm. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Hypoglycemia - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024699/. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705/?pg=1. Accessed January 30, 2017.
Office of Dietary Supplements - Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx. Accessed January 30, 2017.

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