Ask A Scientist

How many carbs do you lose and gain each day?

Asked by: MacKenzie Watson
School: Clayton Avenue Elementary School
Grade: 5
Teacher: Mrs. Lanzy
Hobbies/Interests: Acting, spending time with friends and going on vacation
Career Interest: News reporter or actress and maybe even a scientist.

Answer from Jennifer Wegmann

Lecturer, Binghamton University

Research area:
Eating disorders and body image

Exercising, reading, writing.

Husband, Tom; two Sons - Nick (11) & TJ (9).

That is not a simple question to answer, as there are many variables that must be taken into consideration. First, carbs is jargon for carbohydrates, which are a family of chemical compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. This explains why they are called carbo (as in carbon) hydrates (as in hydro for water). The quantity of carbohydrates you lose or 'use' each day depends on your level of activity. The more active you are the more carbohydrates you will use or burn. The amount of carbohydrates that you gain or 'ingest' each day is based upon how much you consume through your food. I think the important concepts to understand are: 1. What do carbohydrates do in your body? 2. How much do you need a day? 3. What foods provide carbohydrates and which are the healthiest? Carbohydrates are your body's primary energy source, providing 4 calories for every gram that we consume. Cells in your body depend on carbohydrates for energy (in the form of glucose), and it is the preferred source of energy for your brain, red blood cells, and nervous system. So every time you are out on the playground or riding your bike you are utilizing carbohydrates. You even use them when you are sleeping or sitting still. This brings me to the second concept: How much do you need a day? The minimum amount of carbohydrates needed a day is based on the amount needed to keep your brain functioning properly. That is approximately 130 grams. If you do not consume enough then your body will turn protein into a carbohydrate (glucose) to meet your needs. Your body does not prefer to do this because proteins have important and special functions of their own, like making strong muscles or antibodies that help you fight infections. Healthy diets should contain more than this minimum, 130 grams, to meet needs like activity and growth. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that 45 -65 % of your calories come from carbohydrates. So in a typical 2000-calorie diet this would equate to 225 to 325 grams. Your body does not have a lot of storage space for carbohydrates so it is important that you replenish them everyday, but some attention w.should be paid to what kind of carbohydrates you eat. However, you need to be careful not to over consume because carbohydrates that are not burned are converted into fat. There are three types Carbohydrates: Simple sugars, Complex (starches), and Fiber. Not all carbohydrates are created equal so let's explore some choices. Simple carbohydrates are considered 'simple' because they require little to no digestion before the body can use them. FRUITS contain simple sugars that we can use for energy along with fiber and other nutrients. This makes them better for us than less healthy choices like soda and candy and anything that has high-fructose corn syrup in it. These products should be limited because unlike fruit they offer little to no nutritional value outside of calories. Fruit on the other hand provides many vitamins and minerals along with carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates come from foods like pasta, cereal, rice, bread, & VEGATABLES. Some less healthy choices would include French fries, sugar cereals, & processed refined flour products like white bread and pasta. These products should be limited because they also lack a nutritional punch. You should strive to consume whole grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, and vegetables. They are nutritional powerhouses and they also provide the third type of carbohydrate - Fiber. Fiber cannot be digested by the body therefore provides no calories, but the benefits cannot be understated, including helping keep your heart healthy. So basically, you should strive to consume carbohydrates that come from fruits vegetables, and whole grains. You should try to limit carbohydrates that come from soda, candy, sugar-laden cereals and refined processed flour like white bread.

Last Updated: 9/18/13