A popular opinion is that we should restrict carbohydrate intake in the evening. The theory behind this is that carbohydrates are a source of fuel and if we are inactive they will be stored as fat. So, don't eat carbs before bed.
While this recommendation is based off good principle, it is illogical. It's one of those things that makes sense if you don't think about it.
Remember when I said that when we eat carbohydrates we mainly store it as glycogen? Well this holds true no matter what time of day it is. Glycogen that you use to fuel your workout in the morning will continue to be replenished throughout the day. Unless you are overeating you should not fear eating carbohydrates past 5:00pm.
In 2011 a six month study was conducted with one group consuming carbohydrates throughout the day and another group consuming the majority of their carbohydrates at dinner. At the end of the study both groups experienced significant weight loss, but, there was not a significant difference between the groups. Surprisingly, the experimental group that ate the majority of their carbs with dinner experienced a reduction in the urge to eat and preoccupation with food. The authors proposed that the secretion of leptin (hormone that helps regulate appetite) may have shifted from being released primarily at night to being released during the day (1).
Another study looked at the effects of consuming carbohydrate, whey, or casein protein in the evening on resting energy expenditure and satiety. The study found that eating carbohydrates before bed resulted in a greater resting energy expenditure than not eating anything before bed. While this is most likely due to the thermic effect of the food consumed, the authors were able to conclude that it is more beneficial for active young men to eat before bed than to not eat before bed (2).
Check out this article for more information on nutrient timing myths.
The Gluten Bug
The fear of gluten has plagued our nation ever since our paleolithic zealots caught wave of the substance. Before diving into what many of the bogus claims are against gluten, I feel it is important to differentiate between celiacs disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). There have been too many cases where someone who thinks they are gluten sensitive have told me that they have celiacs disease. This is incredibly insulting for the individuals who truly suffer from celiacs disease.
Celiacs disease is a serious autoimmune disorder in which patients must restrict gluten in its entirety. We are able to diagnose this disease but are unable to cure it (3).
NCGS is when the ingestion of gluten produces a variety of symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, rash, fatigue, or joint pain. Currently there is no good laboratory test to determine if someone has NCGS. Diagnosis is typically made when the individual tests negative for celiacs disease and wheat allergy but there is still an association between gluten ingestion and the variety of symptoms stated above (3).
So do you have NCGS or is it something else in your life that is presenting these symptoms? My recommendation is to first switch to whole grain products from refined grains (4). Taking gluten away from your diet is a serious decision that will impact your life. Just think about all the foods that have gluten in them. Is this something you really want to give up for the rest of your life if you don’t have to?
Too many individuals and health care professional have jumped the gun on NCGS causing a wide-spread panic that is not justified.
In addition to being told that you are sensitive to gluten we have our lovely Paleo followers arguing that our prehistoric ancestors never consumed wheat products. Therefore, our bodies are unable to digest them.
We actually do not know exactly what our ancestors consumed. This was several thousand years ago and I am not aware of anyone alive who lived during that era.
What we can do is use the evidence that we have to hypothesize what we ate. And when we use actual evidence instead of ideology to make this prediction, we can assume that our ancestors actually did eat wheat products.
One archaeology study found starch grains on the tools used by our ancestors in a variety of different regions. The authors findings indicate that the process of making flour was common 30,000 years ago and possibly longer (5).
Meanwhile, an anthropology study found starch grains in the teeth of skeletons from Northwestern Europe. These authors were able to conclude that our ancestors ate plant products highly similar to the plant products we eat today (6).
Another attack that gluten gets is that it causes inflammation. I’m going to have to tug your shoulder a little bit to contradict this argument. Observational research has shown that their is a link between gluten and inflammation. But, we know that correlation does not always equal causation.
One cohort study did find a positive correlation between refined grains and inflammation but an inverse relationship between whole grains and inflammation. This indicates that there may be something to “type gluten” inflammation or sensitivity (4). This is one reason why I recommend people who are serious about going gluten free to try eliminating refined grains first.
However, experimental research has shown no inflammatory effect of consuming whole grains versus refined grains (7). Experimental studies are more powerful than cohort studies but I would like to see more data on this first.
Lastly, gluten is actually healthy. There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that eating grains can improve glucose control, reduce inflammation, decrease LDL, and reduce your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease (8,9,10,11).
Despite this evidence, gluten will continue to be attacked.
White, Wheat, or Whole Grain?
Many people put too much time and effort into stressing out about the title on the package of food that they buy. In reality, these buzz words may have much less meaning in your diet than you think.
First off, the labels on our food products can be highly misleading. A company may claim that the bread contains 70 kilocalories and 8 grams of protein on the front of the package. However, when you look at the nutrition label you find out that the bread contains 70 kilocalories per slice but only 4 grams of protein. The company choose to advertise two different serving sizes of the bread to attract more buyers.
Another trick that a company can use is to advertise the product as whole grain. But, when you look at the ingredients you will see that the first ingredient is enriched flour.
Why is this?
Well, if you keep reading the list of ingredients you will find that the product also contains whole wheat flour. The Food and Drug Administration currently does not do a good job in regulating many of the buzz words we hear. A product that uses one tablespoon of whole wheat flour and 10 pounds of enriched flour can be labeled the same as a product that uses 10 pounds of whole wheat flour and one tablespoon of enriched flour. Just look at my Eggo waffles!
I see two major differences in all of these variations of wheat products: the glycemic index and the nutritional quality. As we discovered in part 1 the glycemic index of food does not influence fat loss. So, 100 kilocalories from white pasta will be the same as 100 kilocalories from whole grain pasta.
Nutritional quality does raise a potential problem. Whole grains will have more fiber and micronutrition than enriched grains. But, we can get this same nutrition from a wide variety of food sources. Fruits and vegetables are examples of nutrient dense foods that pack plenty of fiber and micronutrition.
For this reason you should not stress out about having refined grains here and there. When a bread basket is presented in front of you with a dozen variations of bread, eat the one you like the most. There is no reason to get caught up in deciphering the differences between a honey wheat or a rye dinner roll.
For some reason, white potatoes are often tossed into this forbidden category of "white" products. Unlike our white breads, pastas, and rices a white potato has a highly similar nutritional content to a sweet potato. The only difference is sweet potatoes are insanely high in vitamin A.
Fiber is an important part of our diet that is resistant to digestion and can help clean our intestines. Foods that are high in fiber tend to be nutrient dense which will lead to improved satiety (12). This filling effect may be why diets low in fiber are associated with obesity. A low fiber diet can also lead to constipation, impaired glucose metabolism, and an increase in inflammation (13).
Eating too much fiber can cause trouble too. Fiber can interact with certain vitamins and minerals having a negative impact on absorption. When fiber is going through our digestive tract bacteria will bind to the fiber to help break it down. The bacteria will generate various gasses which will make you bloated and... well, a farting machine! (14)
The Institute of Medicine recommends 25 grams of fiber a day for females and 38 grams for men. People run into problems with this recommendation because it does not account for the variances in diet that everyone has. For example, if you are a female on a very low calorie diet (below 1,000 kilocalories) you will struggle to consume 25 grams of fiber. Likewise, if you are an active male consuming a very high calorie diet (above 5,000 kilocalories) you will easily consume 38 grams of fiber.
For these reasons, I am a fan of the Dietary Reference Intake of fiber which is 14 grams per 1000 kilocalories. Now your fiber intake can increase or decrease with the fluctuations in your caloric intake. This will also ensure that you are finding a balance of eating wholesome foods in your diet. Eat too little nutrient dense foods and your fiber intake will suffer. Eat too many nutrient dense foods and your fiber intake will skyrocket. Fourteen grams per 1000 kilocalories finds a nice balance.
Some people like to subtract their fiber from their carbohydrate intake to calculate net carbohydrate intake. I do not like this calculation because it assumes that all fibers are not digestible and do not provide any energy. But, some fiber is fermented in our colons and is used as energy later. The ability to use this fermented fiber as energy varies person to person. For this reason, I say make things simple and count fiber as a carbohydrate (15).
How much carbs should I eat?
This is a broad topic that will come down to an individual basis. There are people who are more sensitive to insulin and will do better consuming a high fat low carb diet (16). No matter what your individual needs are, you will need to calculate your caloric needs first.
A basic calculation is to multiply your bodyweight by 15. There are numerous calculations out there like this but they can all be highly inaccurate. Unless you have the laboratory equipment, you will not know how many calories you are burning each day.
For now, let’s stick to the basics.
If you weigh 175 pounds this calculation will put your Caloric needs at 2625. From here you can subtract the amount of Calories you plan to consume from fat and protein.
If you want to consume 30% of your calories from fat and consume 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight you are now left with 1348 kilocalories.
One gram of carbohydrate contains 4 kilocalories. So we will divide 1348 by 4 to get roughly 337 grams of carbohydrates!
Another way you can look at your carbohydrate intake is based on your bodyweight. If you engage in moderate intensity training for up to an hour a day, you will want to eat somewhere between 1.4 and 2.3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight (17). So, the 175 pound person above would eat somewhere between 245 and 402 grams of carbohydrates a day.
If you engage in moderate to high intensity training for one to three hours a day, your carbohydrate needs will increase to somewhere between 3.2 to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight (17). This will increase your total intake to between 560 and 962 grams of carbohydrates a day!
As you can see your carbohydrate intake will fluctuate greatly based on a number of factors. Someone who is active and trying to gain weight will need to eat a considerable more amount of carbs than someone who is sedentary and trying to lose weight.
For athletes I tend to recommend their carbohydrate intake based on their practice schedule. This is because most basic Calorie calculations will underestimate how much food an athlete needs to recover and progress from their training sessions.
Below I have summarized some of the key takeaway points from this article. If you enjoyed this article please share below!
Key Take Away Points
- Carbohydrates are not essential but they are our main source of fuel
- Only go on a ketogenic diet under the supervision of a physician
- Don’t fear high foods with a high glycemic index
- You can eat sugar
- You can eat carbs at night
- We cannot test for gluten sensitivity
- Don’t tell people you have celiacs disease if you don’t. It’s rude
- Gluten can reduce inflammation
- Food labels can be misleading
- White potatoes are healthy
- Consume 14 grams of fiber per 1000 kilocalories
- Carbohydrate needs will be highly individualized
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