Counting Carbs: What’s in Your Diet?

counting carbohydrates

When it comes to weight loss, no other food has been picked over more than carbohydrates. Some experts recommend going on a low-carb diet to slim those stubborn pounds, while others promote that carbs should be your main staple.

If you have diabetes, then you’ll want to watch the carbs you consume, but if you’re healthy and simply want to lose weight, should you be counting carbs at all?

What Are Carbs?

From rice to bread to beans to milk to cookies to cherry pie, carbohydrates can be found just about anywhere.

At the core of every carbohydrate molecule is a sugar molecule (combined with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). Some carbohydrates contain hundreds of sugar molecules in complex chains, while others are more simple.

Carbohydrates can be divided into two categories: Simple and Complex. Simple carbohydrates are your more recognizable sugars such as fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (corn or grape sugar), and sucrose (table sugar). Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, offer three or more linked sugars are were once considered the healthiest to eat.

Do Carbs Make You Fat?

Science has shown that the body breaks down carbohydrates (both simple and complex) into single sugar molecules which can be then used as a universal source of energy (with the exception of fiber which is more difficult to digest).

As blood sugar levels rise, the body signals to the pancreas to secret more insulin, a hormone that tells the body to turn blood sugar into energy or to store it as fat. As the cells start absorbing the sugar, the levels start to fall again, and another hormone is released (glucagon), which tells the body to released stored sugar – resulting in a constant flux.

If you have more useable glucose than your body can handle, then much of it is stored as fat – which is why many believe that eating a diet high in carbs is bad for you.

Additionally, a scientific journal Gar Taubes wrote in in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories explained that because carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin, which can remove nutrients from the bloodstream, it can leave an individual feeling not quite satiated or even hungry. This increased appetite makes it difficult to keep in control of your diet and lose weight.

How Many Carbs Should I Eat?

The most popular diet fads such as the Atkins Diet or South Beach diet seem to promote that all carbohydrates are “bad” and that if you eat too many carbs a day, you’ll start packing on the pounds. However, this idea is only loosely based on the way carbohydrates are broken down.

“Carbohydrates are not the enemy,” says experts at WebMD. “dieters who have followed low-carbohydrate regimes have reported health problems ranging from constipation to heart problems.”

According to David S. Ludwig, MD, eating very low-fat, low-carb diets may actually slow a person’s metabolism down to a level where it won’t burn calories as efficiently as it could, and in a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, individuals who lost weight on a low-carb diet experienced the change in weight simply because they consumed fewer calories per day, not because they eliminated the carbs.

“From a metabolic perspective, our study suggests that all calories are not alike. The quality of the calories going in is going to affect the number of calories going out.”

Experts recommend that if you’re counting carbs, nearly 60% of your diet should come from carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while the rest of your diet should consist of 20% fats and 20% protein.

If you have diabetes, and need to keep your diet low on the glycemic index, then 40% of your diet should be carbs, 40% fats, and 20% proteins.

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