“How many carbs should I eat a day?” This question is asked often in the Smart Diabetes Solutions 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge, and for good reason. It’s extremely important for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and those simply looking to improve their health to know the amount of carbs needed to keep their blood sugar levels stable and boost healthy weight loss.
Unfortunately, the question itself is too broad for a single answer or for a single number. Whether you’re a man or woman, your age, physical fitness level, and more are factors that need to be considered in order to get the answer for you. In this article, I will outline the factors you need to consider so that you can determine how many carbs you should personally eat each day.
Do we need carbs?
One thing to understand before getting deeper into the question is how many carbohydrates we need to live. Unlike essential amino acids (proteins), essential fatty acids (fat) or water, our bodies actually don’t need carbohydrates to sustain life. So if that’s the case, why are there carbs in basically everything we eat?
The quick and simple answer is that they’re cheap, easy to source and even easier to process. That’s why we’re bombarded with inexpensive processed foods containing tons of sugar and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are also advertised as a great source of energy. Which is true because simple carbohydrates break down into glucose quickly and provide us with quick energy.
However, many of us don’t need all the energy they provide. And because our bodies can’t burn off the extra glucose that’s created through the digestion of these carbohydrates, that glucose can overload us by spiking insulin and/or be stored as fat. In short, this is how Type 2 diabetes develops. This constant overload of carbohydrates and glucose damages the systems within our bodies that regulate the release of insulin.
By eating the proper amount of carbs each day, you can allow your body to burn glucose properly. This can help keep your blood sugar numbers in check right away, and in the long-run, can help repair the way your body processes glucose.
Let’s go through the variables one by one so you can determine for yourself how many carbs YOU should have in a day in order to keep your diabetes well-managed.
Where NOT to start
So before I dug into the research, I decided to do a quick search of the internet to find the answer to the question, “How many carbohydrates should a diabetic have a day?” Here is the answer I found from a simple Google search: “If you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should consume about 250 grams of complex carbohydrates per day. A good starting place for people with diabetes is to have roughly 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal and 15 to 30 grams for snacks.”
That is a whole lot of carbs and not a good answer! I eat about 60 to 70 grams of carbs a day, and I’m fairly active and don’t have diabetes. Also, for a 2,000 calorie diet, that means 50 percent, or 1,000 calories, would come from carbohydrates. (You get this from taking the 250 grams of carbohydrates recommended by Google and multiplying by four calories per carbohydrate.)
Again, this is a complex question beyond a simple number, so understand that you will have to be in tune with your personal blood sugar levels, activity, and medication to really figure this out.
How to determine how many carbs you should eat in a day
Step 1: Track What You Eat
The first thing you should do is track what you’re eating, how many carbs are in the foods and what types of carbs (simple or complex). This isn’t something you need to do forever, you may only need to do it for a week or two to determine a baseline average to the questions above. For instance, you may notice that you’re consuming a lot of carbs through sugary beverages or eating a lot of simple carbs from white bread and snacks.
Maybe you tend to eat the largest amount of carbs for dinner. Being more aware of your eating habits and how many carbs you’re taking in is a great way to learn the correlations between your blood sugar levels and what you eat. If you have high and unstable blood sugar levels you may want to cut back on the carbs or switch from eating simple carbohydrates to more complex ones from whole natural foods.
Step 2: Track Your Activity Levels
You built some correlations in step one, and now it’s on to step two. Our activity levels on a daily basis have a direct impact on our blood sugar levels. If you happen to work in an office or at a job where you don’t move around a lot, your energy expenditure will be much lower than someone who works in construction. If you have a dog or children, you may be expending more energy going for walks or playing. Do you do any at-home exercises or go to the gym?
The idea is to understand how much energy you need by linking your blood sugar levels to how active you are. So ask yourself these questions:
- How many hours a day am I sedentary (sitting or lying down)?
- How often do I raise my heart rate above resting?
- Are there things I can do throughout the day that can get me moving more often?
If you tend not to be too active and don’t plan on being more active, then you need less energy from carbs. This tends to be a main reason for people having high blood sugar levels, they don’t correlate their carb consumption with their activity levels.
Step 3: Tracking Medications and Insulin
One of the big factors in determining how many carbs you need is understanding the effects of the medications and/or insulin you take. This correlation is the main reason most diabetics can’t just go cold turkey and cut out all carbs. You want to strive to achieve stable blood sugar levels within the healthy range, so you don’t want to drop the levels too low by not eating enough carbohydrates.
Again, like in steps 1 and 2, you need to track your blood sugar levels and find the correlation between the medications you take and what you’re eating and activity levels. This is what we strive to accomplish within the Complete Wellness Program, helping you make the connections and then with your doctor’s approval, lowering your medication and insulin intake.
Tracking what you eat, how active you are and the medications you take is not something you need to do forever. But it is something you need to do so you no longer are guessing and asking yourself why your blood sugar levels are where they are.
Once you move through the steps to understand the correlations between your blood sugar levels, physical activity, eating habits and medications, you can then move on to taking action.
Are you experiencing too many highs or consistent highs? Try the following:
- Switch out simple carbs for complex carbs.
- Increase your activity levels.
- Remove sugary beverages from your daily routine.
Are you experiencing too many lows?
- Maybe you need to eat more complex carbs.
- Perhaps you need to speak with your doctor about adjusting your medications.
Remember, everyone’s body works differently. Here at Smart Diabetes Solutions, we believe strongly in listening to your own body and testing rather than following a one-size-fits-all answer.
Not interested in counting carbs every day? We don’t blame you! That’s why we’ve put together our 21 Days of Meal Planning kit for you.
The kit includes 3 weeks of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, PLUS recipe cards, and weekly shopping lists! It takes the thought and stress out of eating well. Click here to learn more!
Hi I’m Kyle Jensen the Wellness Coach at Smart Diabetes Solutions. Through poor eating habits and an inactive lifestyle I put myself in a bad state both physically and mentally. After years of retraining my mind and body I decided to take my newfound understanding of health and help others in their journey. I remember the struggle and how many times I almost gave up. Now I want to help others who are overweight or have Diabetes live a happier more healthy life.