There’s no question that obesity is a major problem in the United States, with about two-thirds of all adults weighing more than they should. In recent years, carbohydrates have shouldered much of the blame for our struggles with weight loss and eating a healthy diet.
The reality, however, is that a low carb diet is not the only factor when it comes to weight loss. Americans are eating about as many carbohydrates as the government recommends — the problem is the type of carbs we’re choosing.
Although the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates is around 130 grams, that’s the absolute minimum amount that is recommended for brain function. In 2010, the government suggested that Americans get about 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. For a 2,000-calories-a-day diet, that’s about 275 grams of carbohydrates, which is right in line with what most people are eating.
“Americans are not eating too many carbohydrates. This is a fact and not my opinion,” says Mary Hartley, RD, director of nutrition for www.caloriecount.com. “An analysis of the most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed the average carbohydrate intake to be about 50 percent of total calories. The Acceptable Macronutrient Density Range for carbohydrates is 45 to 65 percent of total calories.”
However, though the amounts of carbohydrates for a healthy diet are about right, the kinds of carbohydrates are wrong.
Are You Eating the Right Carbohydrates?
Americans should be eating more unprocessed complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less refined carbohydrates, such as packaged crackers, cookies, cereals, and breads.
These refined carbohydrates are certainly part of the reason that Americans have trouble with weight loss and a healthy diet. “My thoughts are that people eat too many calories and too much sugar, period,” Hartley says. “An upper limit of 10 percent of total calories should come from added sugar. On a 2,000-calories-a-day diet, that’s 50 grams (1 gram of carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories). To put it in perspective, a 12-ounce can of soda has 27 grams, and that’s not to mention the added sugar in yogurt, cereals, energy bars, syrups, salad dressing, and other sources.”
While eating the wrong carbohydrates is part of the problem, it’s not the only stumbling block to weight loss. “The issue is that we consume too many calories for the amount of activity (calories burned) we expend each day, and the quality of those calories is not very good,” says Timothy S. Harlan, MD, medical director of the Tulane University Medical Group in New Orleans and author of Just Tell Me What to Eat.
To put it another way, adds Dr. Harlan, Americans are just eating too much to promote weight loss and a healthy diet, plain and simple. “The most recent and reliable data puts the average calorie availability in the United States at around 3,700 calories per day,” he says. “This is a lot considering that the average American female needs about 1,500 calories and males need 2,000 calories per day.”
Weight-Loss Help From Complex Carbs
Considering all this, the answer to weight loss may not necessarily be a low carb diet. Instead, it might be to eat the correct type of carbohydrates — complex carbohydrates rather than refined carbohydrates.
“Of an average intake of 250 grams of carbohydrates on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, at least 125 grams should come from whole grains, such as foods made from whole-wheat flour (bread, cereal, pasta), bulgur (tabouli), oatmeal, brown rice, whole corn meal (tortillas), popcorn, barley, and the novelty grains such as amaranth and millet,” Hartley says. “However, this intake amount can vary per person.”
And when it comes to carbs and weight loss, one critical factor is to choose carbohydrate sources with plenty of fiber. Hartley adds that, “the recommendation is to eat at least 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. You’ll find dietary fiber in whole grains and also in fresh fruit and vegetables — in peels, seeds, stalks, leaves, roots, and pulp; in dried fruit, dried beans, and legumes; and in all seeds.”