The saying “everything in moderation” has given our culture an excuse to become “carbivores”, meaning, “over-consumers of junk carbs”. We don’t think twice about up-sizing or “frapping” that coffee. I certainly was part of that crowd up until my blood sugars were in the prediabetes range. The candy stash at work, the donut for breakfast, the chips in the afternoon, and even the ice cream in the evening – no wonder we’ve become numb on carbs – it’s become the norm.
The NHANES or National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey looks at health and nutritional data collected from both physical evidence and surveys from adults and children. Developed in the 1960’s, this program was organized through the Centers For Disease Control to help provide data that can help identify trends. From 1970-2000 the percentage of total calories consumed coming from carbohydrates has increased from 42 to 49% in men and from 45 to 51% in women. While at the same time there has been a significant rise in obesity among both sexes – nearly 30% since 1960. Could there be a connection between eating more carbs, weight gain and diabetes?
Carbs and Insulin
Eating carbohydrates raise blood glucose or “sugar” levels. The size of the portion directly correlates with the rise in the blood glucose. The higher the blood sugar the more insulin the pancreas has to produce to keep blood sugars in their normal 70-140 range. Carbs include fruits, starchy veggies, milk, and anything containing grains and/or sugar. The real culprits are the processed carbs made with white flour and foods with added sugars. Over time, consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates keeps insulin levels high, overworks the pancreas, causes changes in fat metabolism and weight gain. If you’re lucky, your healthcare provider will discover your rising fasting blood sugars before diabetes develops. There are several blood tests used to diagnose prediabetes: a fasting blood sugar on two occasions greater than 100, an A1c 5.7 to 6.4 or an oral glucose tolerance test(OGTT) with a result greater than 139. Diabetes is confirmed with fasting blood sugar results on two occasions of 126 or greater, an A1c of 6.5 or greater, or an OGTT of 200 or greater. There are 8.1 million people out there who have diabetes and do not know it.
How Many Is Too Many Carbs?
In the early 1970’s, when obesity and diabetes rates were lower, the NHANES data indicated that 42% of the calories for men and 49% of the calories for women were coming from carbohydrates. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, that works out to 210 grams of carbs for men and 225 grams of carbs for women a day.
The new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines do not specify daily amounts of dietary carbohydrates. They only state that less than 10% of calories should come from added sugars, half the grains from whole grains and a healthy eating pattern should include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Not very specific, but combining the NHANES data with the new Dietary Guidelines can provide a framework.
Carbs Add Up
A 16 oz Starbucks Frappuccino has 50 g of carbs. McDonald’s Quarter Pounder has 45g of carbs and a medium french fries has 48g of carbs. Add a coke and the total comes to 151g of carbs. Even McDonald’s Southwest Salad with crispy chicken has 42g of carbs – and with the Southwest dressing, totals 53g. A donut can have as much as 75g of carbs. You can see how the carbohydrates quickly add up and can total 225 by noon. Sugar is hidden in so many foods: ketchup, tomato sauce, crackers, yogurt, salad dressing, soups and many flavored waters. Our taste buds have become so desensitized to sugar, that we don’t even notice how prevalent it is in many of our foods.
Be Carb Aware
I know how hard it is to slowly divest oneself from those favorite convenience foods. I used to be a carbivore, or “chipaholic” to be exact. Utz potato chips were my favorite. It took me several years to realize the only serving size that can come in my house is the 3 oz individual serving that I split with my husband on rare occasions. That 3 oz serving may cost me the same as the buy one, get one promotion, but I don’t have to deal with all the guilt after eating my size and my pancreas thanks me for it!