The Carbohydrate Continuum
Determine Your Ideal Carbohydrate Intake
We are going to describe 2 ways you can use to determine your ideal carbohydrate intake and whether you are eating too many carbs for good health.
The first trial you can do is about finding an ideal level of carb intake for you.
You will need to eat good fats, protein and vegetables and add in a total carbohydrate intake of around 50 – 100g per day for 30 days or longer, if you are feeling good.
If you start to feel a bit off or a have craving for more carbs slowly ramp up by 25g per day for a week or 2 and see how you feel.
If you feel better add a small amount more.
At some point you will notice you no longer feel as good as before this becomes a measure of your maximum carb intake needed. Remember this may also vary depending on your changing activities levels with more movement or exercise may require more carbohydrate intake, see below for further insight.
How much carbohydrate do you really need?
There is a bit of controversy over the need for carbohydrate intake for optimal sex hormone production and thyroid hormone conversion from T4 to T3. You may find increasing carbohydrate consumption as above works best for you or sometimes a small dip in hormones is just a short adaption period and no other change is needed.
If you are generally active it may be a time to think about the possible need for greater carbohydrates added to your diet. You can even experiment with cycling greater amounts of carbs (100/ 200/ 300g) once or twice a week or after your most intense work or activities. Carbohydrates need to be earned!
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This trial comes from one of our greatest endurance coaches and researcher, Phil Maffetone. Phil coached Mark Allen to 6 Iron Man world championships (Kona, Iron man event) using his training and fat adaption principles.
The trial is about finding out how ‘intolerant’ to carbohydrates you are and is also a great start to helping fix the problem.
Carbohydrate intolerance is about being increasingly ‘insulin resistant’ (IR).
One of the major roles of insulin is to help maintain stable levels of glucose in the body and blood.
What happens is that many of us become unable to recognize the signal that insulin provides (IR) and so blood glucose or sugars become increasingly elevated with related poor health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes (T2D), inflammatory diseases and obesity.
Early symptoms of IR or carb intolerance can be subtle with only fatigue, loss of mental focus or bloating. As it becomes worse you may develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and you will no doubt be getting fatter. As these sorts of issues get worse your doctor would refer to this as being Metabolic Syndrome, Syndrome X, or can really be considered pre-diabetes. Finally you might be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, this is IR in it’s worse form.
Summary of a 14 day way of testing
- Write down a list of all your signs and symptoms.
- Weigh yourself before starting.
- Always eat breakfast ideally an hour after waking.
- Plan your meals and snacks. You will need to buy enough of the ALLOWED foods so you are not hungry and please get rid of the NOT ALLOWED foods you may have in the house so you’re not tempted.
- Plan well – ensure you schedule a 14 day time where have more time to focus on yourself but also don’t have too many temptations like when on holidays.
- Don’t worry about how much fat, cholesterol or calories you are eating just eat as much and as often as necessary to never feel hungry. This is only 14 days test or trial and not a diet you are going to eat forever.
- After the test, re-evaluate your signs and symptoms and weigh yourself again.
- Next begin adding natural, unprocessed carbohydrates to every other meal or snack and be careful to note whether this causes any of your previous signs and symptoms to return.
Your Food Examples for the 14 days
- Raw and cooked vegetables: Tomato, onion, garlic, greens such as spinach, kale, chard, and all lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (for those with thyroid dysfunction, cabbage-family veggies are best eaten thoroughly cooked), carrots, zucchini, etc.
- Tree nuts (and nut butters): Macadamia, almond, walnut, for example. (Does NOT include peanuts or cashews).
- Coconut: cream, oil, milk and flour.
Meats & animal products
- Beef: Look for organic, grass-fed varieties.
- Turkey: organic.
- Lamb: Look for organic, grass-fed varieties.
- Fish: Wild-caught cold water fish (tuna, salmon, etc) are best.
- Unprocessed Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, asiago, parmesan, etc.
- Unprocessed Soft Cheeses: Feta, brie, camembert, mozzarella, etc.
- Cream: Heavy cream, sour cream, full-fat crème fraiche.
- Oils: Avocado, coconut, and olive oil.
- Vegetable Juice.
- Coffee or tea: If you usually drink it.
- Vinegar: balsamic, apple-cider, etc.
- Pure, distilled spirits: Small amounts of gin, vodka, whiskey.
- Dry red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Shiraz/Syrah, Chianti.
- Dry white wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc.
NOT Allowed foods
- All sugar products: Includes basically anything with honey, sugar, agave, fructose, crystals (e.g. beet crystals), cane, extract, or syrup in its ingredient list.
- Sweets and desserts: Cake, cookies, ice cream, muffins, candy, gum, breath mints.
- All non-caloric sweeteners (natural and non-natural): Includes stevia, xylitol, erythritol, aspartame, splenda, etc.
- Many canned and prepared veggies: Read the labels to make sure they don’t contain hidden sugars!
- Bread: Sliced bread or rolls of any kind (whole-grain, multi-grain, flaxseed, rye, gluten-free, etc).
- Pasta: All types.
- Crackers: Includes chips, rice cakes, and similar foods.
- Packaged energy bars: And all packaged foods promoted as fuel for athletes.
- Ketchup and other sauces: They often contain hidden sugars.
- Corn: Bread, tortillas, etc.
- Rice: Wild rice, brown rice, white rice, basmati rice, etc.
- All wheat and wheat products: Whole wheat, farro, bulgur, khorasan, millet, etc.
- Quinoa: Includes quinoa seeds and all products (e.g. quinoa pasta).
- Potatoes: Any kind (russet, red, blue, etc.)
- Fruits and berries: Bananas, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruits grapes, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries grapefruit, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, fava beans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts, etc.
- Processed meats: Sausage, ham, salami, pepperoni, etc.
- Smoked products: Jerky (e.g. beef, buffalo), smoked fish.
- Many canned and prepared meats as these can contain hidden sugars – Read the labels!
- Milk: Especially low-fat and non-fat milk.
- Yogurt and kefir: All types, including full-fat yogurt.
- Processed cheeses: Stay away from pre-sliced, single-serving, pre-shredded.
- Avoid all vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, or canola. Even after you finish it is best to not add these back in, ever!
- Fruit Juice: Any type — orange, berry, watermelon, etc.
- All soda: diet and non-diet soda.
- All diet drinks: Diet shakes, etc.
- “Health” Beverages: Vitamin water, mineral water with “health” additives.
- Sports drinks.
- Sweet wines: liqueur, Champagne, rum, etc.
Generally foods that come in a box or package are best to avoid or you will need to carefully read the ingredients list – just avoid packaged food for the 14 days for the best results.
What to do after the 14 days?
Look at your symptoms again.
If you answer yes to any of the below questions there is a good chance you where eating too many carbs for you as an individual:
- Did you energy improve?
- Did you sleep better?
- Where you less depressed?
- Did you lose weight?
The more dramatic the effects on how much better you felt during the 14 days the more likely you were heading down that diabetes or IR track.
Also remember any weight or fat loss was not due to lack of calories but more the result of burning more fat because you were now becoming more insulin sensitive. Some of the weight loss can be from fluid loss but a significant amount will also be fat loss.
If you are on high blood pressure medication you may find your blood pressure dropping significantly – ask your doctor to check a few times during your 14 days but especially straight after and they may be surprised at what they find – there can often be a need to reduce or even stop the medication.
Insulin levels falling to normal can cause high blood pressure to fall as well.
If you did the 14 days exactly as described and nothing improved then you may not be IR or carbohydrate intolerant.
If the test cleared up any of your signs and symptoms, the next step is to determine how many carbohydrates your body can tolerate. You can do this by gradually adding a little bit of carbohydrate back into your diet.
Adding back some carbohydrates
- For each successive day add one serving of one food only to your midday meal.
- The foods below are listed in order of how to add them back in.
- Don’t add carbohydrates in back-to-back meals or snacks.
- Make a note of any symptoms you had previously that were eliminated by the test.
- In particular, look for symptoms that develop immediately after eating, such as intestinal bloating, sleepiness or feelings of depression.
- If you start seeing old signs and symptoms come back you know that the type of food or the quantity isn’t good for you.
- Start with No. 1 and working your way down the list.
- You want to try only one of these foods per day. For example this would mean that on day two, you do not include servings of food No. 1 and so on.
2. Low-glycemic fruits (berries, grapefruit, prunes)
3. Medium-glycemic fruits (apple, orange, pear, strawberries)
4. Gluten-free grains (whole oats, brown rice)
5. Grains with gluten, if not intolerant
6. 1 teaspoon of organic honey with coffee or tea (excluding agave, or any other kind of sugary substance)
If any signs or symptoms that disappeared during or following your 14 day trial have now returned, you’ve probably exceeded your carbohydrate limit. For example:
- You’re getting cravings again.
- You are gaining weight again.
- Your blood pressure rises significantly after it was reduced.
If any of these situations occur, reduce the carbohydrates by half. You can also experiment to see which particular foods cause symptoms and which don’t. You can also go back and restart the process as a way of resetting again.
Many people find that not eating grains can leave their digestive tract sluggish and even a little constipated. Your intestine may have got use to the larger carb load and that sort of bulk. If you become constipated during your trial, or afterwards when you are eating a lower amount of carbohydrate in your diet, it could be due to a number of reasons:
- Lack of Fiber. If you require a fiber supplement, be sure to use the ones that do not contain sugar, so read the labels. Psyllium is a high-fiber herb that is an effective promoter of intestinal function. Adding plain unsweetened psyllium to a glass of water, tomato juice, or healthy smoothie can keep your system running smoothly. Add one teaspoon a day for a few days to make sure it’s tolerated, then move towards one tablespoon a day.
- Dehydration. If you don’t drink enough water, you could be predisposed to constipation. During the Two-Week Test, you’ll need more water — up to two to three quarts or more per day — which is a normal amount for a person of average weight.
- Other Nutrients. Adequate intake of natural fats can also be helpful in preventing constipation. Vegetables, legumes such as lentils, and fruits are also great sources of fiber. So if you become constipated, it may simply be that you need to eat more vegetables and fruits.