As I shared with you in my last post about carbs, you do not need to feel as though you have to “earn” your carbs in order to include them into your diet. Our bodies need carbohydrates to not only survive, but thrive.
There are actually several reasons you may not be feeling at your peak health due to consuming too few carbohydrates on a regular basis. Yes, eating too low carb can harm your health and prevent you from achieving optimal health. A diet too low in carbohydrates may honestly be the one thing you have to change in order to address the health issue(s) you are currently experiencing.
I think it is important to understand why carbohydrates are so important and how they help us get healthier in order to make the changes to our diets we may have to make to address health issues, which is why I created this post for you.
10 Reasons You May Want To Eat More Carbs
You are an athlete
If you are a professional athlete or an every day athlete (I would consider myself to be an every day athlete) who works out at minimum 3 – 4 times a week, you will likely do better with a moderate to high carbohydrate intake vs. low.
I understand that we are all unique and that some athletes actually do thrive off of a low carb diet, however, more often than not, athletes will become fatigued and suffer as a result of eating too low carb.
Some signs that you can be aware of to determine if a low carb approach isn’t working out for you include: you have a hard time recovering from your workouts, your workouts leave you feeling fatigued, you are not progressing in your workouts, you do not feel motivated to workout, you’re unable to lose weight (if this is a goal of yours), or you’re gaining weight (unexplainably). If any of these signs sound like you, you will likely benefit from increasing your carbohydrate intake.
You are pregnant
If you are pregnant, you will want to avoid going low carb as your growing baby needs glucose. A moderate to high carbohydrate intake (depending on your health status and you as an individual), should be best to support the growth of your baby. These recommendations may not apply to expecting mothers who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, however, as they may require some measure of carbohydrate restriction.
A moderate to high carbohydrate intake may be anywhere between 100 – 200 (or more, depending on the person) grams of whole, real food carbohydrates (think sweet potatoes, plantains, whole fruits, rice, etc.)
You are struggling with fertility
Fertility or any reproductive issues could be due to following a too low carbohydrate diet. When we consume too few carbohydrates (and calories as I shared in this post), our bodies perceive that as a sign of stress. Since our bodies are so smart, when they sense stress, they will shut down their ability to reproduce because they do not want to reproduce in stressful conditions.
When we eat carbohydrates, our pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to determine whether or not it is fed or not. When the body knows it is in a fed state, it should be able to reproduce, however, if the body does not think it is being fed, issues with fertility can result. To ensure your body knows that it is safe and fed, make sure to include carbohydrates into your diet and avoid going too low carb.
You suffer from hypothyroidism
Consuming too few carbohydrates can result in poor thyroid function as insulin is required to convert T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active form). Insulin levels can get too low for this to happen when a low carb diet is followed. If you know you suffer from hypothyroidism, have cold hands or feet, are suddenly losing your hair, have unexplained weight gain or have difficulty losing weight, or feel fatigued, you will likely benefit from increasing your carbohydrate intake.
You suffer from adrenal fatigue
With adrenal fatigue, the hormone that gets out of balance in cortisol and low carb diets have the ability to increase cortisol levels. When cortisol is increased, this is a sign of stress, which means low carbohydrate diets can be stressful on the body and the adrenal glands. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your health when experiencing adrenal fatigue or any issues with your adrenal health is to make sure that your diet is not too low in carbohydrates.
You suffer from mood disorders such as anxiety or depression
When we eat too few carbohydrates, GABA, the happy neurotransmitter, can become low, resulting in low mood. It has been shown that increasing carbohydrate consumption increases GABA levels because starches feed healthy bacteria in the gut, which produce GABA.
Anxiety may also be a result of low blood sugar, which can result of consuming too few carbs. To prevent drops in blood sugar, it is important to consume an appropriate amount of carbohydrates.
You suffer from poor gut health such as dysbiosis
As Chris Kresser covers in this podcast, a diet low in carbohydrates can result in gut dysbiosis and a lack of diversity in the types of gut flora. This makes sense because when we eat carbohydrates and certain starches, we are also consuming prebiotics, which act like food for our gut bacteria. Without an adequate amount of prebiotics, our gut flora is unable to produce enough gut-healing substances. It is important to keep our guts healthy as an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide variety of diseases, everything from obesity to mental health issues.
You experience insomnia or struggle with sleeping
As mentioned above when talking about adrenal fatigue, consuming too few carbohydrates can cause cortisol levels to rise and fall at improper times of the day. In a healthy individual, cortisol will be highest in the morning and gradually drop, being at it’s lowest in the evening. When cortisol rises and falls properly, we are able to have stable energy throughout the day and fall asleep without issues in the evening. However, when cortisol is out of balance, or dysregulated, cortisol will be low in the morning and high in the evening, resulting in issues with falling asleep or even causing insomnia. Increasing your carbohydrate intake will help balance your cortisol levels. Additionally, having carbohydrates with your evening meal will help lower cortisol levels and promote a good, high quality, restful sleep.
Another reason as to why carbohydrates may help with insomnia or poor sleep is due to its ability to increase tryptophan uptake. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter needed for sleep regulation, but requires tryptophan to be synthesized by the pineal gland in the brain. This is another reason why a meal containing carbohydrates in the evening can have the ability to promote a restful sleep.
You struggle with your weight
As I mentioned above, when eating too few carbohydrates, our body can enter a state of stress and elevate our cortisol levels, which can hinder weight loss. Additionally, issues with losing weight or unexplained weight gain are signs of a thyroid imbalance and as I shared with you above, the thyroid requires a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in order to function properly.
Despite what you may think about carbs and the effect they will have on your weight, an increase in carbohydrates may be the exact thing you need to lower your stress, address the health of your thyroid, and manage your weight in a healthful way.
You experience frequent muscle cramping
Generally, muscle cramping is a result of an imbalance in electrolytes, so making sure that your electrolytes are in balance is a must. Things like adding sea salt to your water and ensuring you’re getting enough calcium and magnesium are great things to do, but I have found that many people who experience muscle cramping (myself included, in the past!) follow a low carb diet, which results in another electrolyte becoming too low, potassium.
I often see those who follow a Paleo diet may be unintentionally eating too low carbohydrate as they are focusing too much on meats and fibrous vegetables and avoiding the healthful starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams, and plantains, too much. These starchy vegetables are rich in potassium, an electrolyte our bodies need to be in balance. I would suggest to begin consuming more of these potassium rich foods, as well as salting your food with a high quality sea salt, to address muscle cramping.
When consuming too few carbohydrates on a regular basis, magnesium is depleted from the body at a higher rate, as well, likely due to the amount of stress this causes our body (stress = magnesium loss). So, an increase in carbohydrates can resolve this issue, too.
Lastly, dehydration will cause your muscles to cramp. When eating too low carb, our body enters a state called ketosis, which can cause dehydration and require us to drink more water. So, by increasing our carbohydrate intake and drinking a proper amount of water (I recommend consuming 1/2 you bodyweight in oz. of water, daily), you should be able to address your issues of cramping muscles.
As you can see, carbohydrates are not only needed, but necessary in order for us to function properly and optimally. Many health issues can result from going too low carb and I hope this post inspires you to look at your current health status, be honest with yourself, and assess whether or not you would benefit from increasing your carbohydrate intake.
As always, if you need help with increasing your carbohydrates, determining how many carbohydrates you should be consuming, or any other diet-related help, I am always here for you. Read more about my one on one coaching services here or contact me here.