In today’s diet landscape, many popular trends, such as the ketogenic (keto) diet, have led to skepticism about carbohydrates. People often believe that cutting back on carbs is the key to achieving optimal health and maintaining a healthy weight. However, is eliminating carbs, including staples like bread and fruits, truly the best approach for supporting your overall well-being? In reality, there are signs that indicate when your body needs more carbohydrates.
It’s important to understand that carbs are neither inherently good nor bad. According to dietitian and personal trainer Jenna Appel, carbs are our primary source of fuel, providing the energy needed for daily activities and optimal brain function. In fact, our brain relies on carbohydrates for about 90% of its energy requirements.
When we consume carbs, our bodies break them down into sugar, which can be used as immediate energy or stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver for later use. To ensure your body is properly fueled, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45–65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, that translates to approximately 225–320 grams of carbohydrates.
If you fall short on your body’s primary fuel source, you are likely to experience various effects, ranging from expected to unexpected. Let’s explore these signs in more detail:
Fatigue and Brain Fog:
One of the most evident indications that your body lacks the necessary carbohydrates is feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Without sufficient carbs, you may experience sluggishness, daytime sleepiness, headaches, and difficulty focusing.
Inadequate carbohydrate intake can also lead to changes in mood, particularly irritability. Carbohydrates play a role in the production of serotonin, a hormone responsible for balancing our mood and promoting a sense of happiness and well-being. When you notice changes in your mood, it’s essential to consider the importance of carbohydrates in your diet.
Crummy Workouts: If low-carb consumption leaves you struggling to get through a typical workday, it will undoubtedly affect your exercise performance as well. While lower-intensity workouts can rely on alternative energy sources like oxygen and fat, higher-intensity exercises, such as CrossFit, require glucose from carbohydrates. Studies have shown that low-carb, ketogenic diets significantly impact performance in high-intensity exercises.
It may come as a surprise, but inadequate carbohydrate intake can result in foul-smelling breath. When you consume fewer carbs, your body turns to fat for fuel, producing chemicals called ketones. These ketones are released through your breath and can cause an unpleasant odor. The phenomenon known as “keto breath” is associated with low-carb diets.
By restricting carbohydrates, you miss out on the fiber that typically accompanies them. Fiber adds bulk to our stool and promotes regular bowel movements. Without enough fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, constipation and irregularity can become a common problem. Since many individuals already fall short on fiber intake, reducing carbs can exacerbate these issues.
If any of these issues resonate with you, it’s crucial to prioritize adequate carbohydrate consumption and monitor the improvements in how you feel. You can either track your meals for a few days to ensure that 45–65% of your calories come from carbs, or simply aim to have a quarter of your plate consist of healthy carbohydrates during each meal.
But what qualifies as “healthy” carbs? Look for whole-food sources such as whole grains (e.g., oats or brown rice), legumes (e.g., beans or lentils), fruits (e.g., berries or apples), and starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes or squash). Increasing your intake of these natural whole grains provides fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer, ultimately supporting weight loss in the long run.
By including sufficient carbohydrates in your diet, you can experience benefits such as improved focus, increased energy levels, and enhanced weight-loss success. It’s a win-win-win situation for your overall health and well-being.
Remember, balance is key, and consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian is always recommended when making significant changes to your diet.