Why carbs aren’t the enemy of weight loss

Carbohydrates have a bad reputation when it comes to weight loss. Conventional wisdom has us believe that in order to lose weight, we need to limit — or eliminate — carbohydrates in our diets. But it is not that simple. In fact, carbs — the sugars and starches found in grains, fruits, and vegetables — provide crucial, fast-acting energy to fuel your brain, muscles, and metabolism. And when not baked, they also contain plenty of minerals, vitamins, and fiber needed to maintain good health. In fact, carbohydrates are usually your body’s primary (and preferred) fuel source.

The problem is that many diets of the last two decades make carbs the enemy of weight loss. These diets demonize all carbohydrates, from oats and lentils to fruit, and push you to exorcise them from your life. It’s true that by limiting highly processed carbs, you can make weight loss easier. But avoiding the good stuff can hurt your health and fitness goals. Read on to learn how to slice it.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, like protein and fat, are macronutrients – sources of energy that keep you alert, active and, well…alive. Think of carbohydrates as your body’s main source of crude oil. Through digestion, carbohydrates are converted into glucose, much like high-octane unleaded gasoline. “Carbohydrates are the only nutrients that exist solely to fuel the body,” says Donald Layman, nutrition consultant at the University of Illinois. Without glucose, your blood oxygen levels suffer, your energy levels spike, and your brain becomes muddled.

You should aim to get 45% to 65% of your daily calories from carbs. If you’re a moderately active man consuming 2,600 calories a day, that means 1,170 to 1,690 calories should come from carbs. And since carbs — whether they come from sugar, starch, or fiber — contain four calories per gram, you should aim for between 295g and 425g per day. This will help your brain, blood, and nervous system function at their best, says Dr. Layman.

If you keep your intake below 80g per day, as some diets suggest, your body will begin to break down fat stores to produce ketones to use as fuel, which can lead to that cloudy low-fat feeling. carbohydrates. Excess dietary carbohydrates, like all calories, are stored as body fat. You want to find a balance.

Complex carbohydrates

There’s more to it than grams and servings, however, says Frank Sacks, professor of nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. The type of carbs is important, as well as the amount you eat. Complex carbohydrates, found in starchy vegetables and whole grains, are linked to a healthier weight and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“Complex carbs are hard for the body to break down, and that’s a good thing,” says Gail Cresci, a gastroenterology and nutrition researcher at the Cleveland Clinic. These carbohydrates are digested slowly, which means the absorption of sugars into your bloodstream is also slower. The increases in your blood sugar and insulin levels are moderate enough to not reach the levels associated with storing body fat, says Dr. Cresci. Plus, your instincts love them – in more ways than one. “The gut microbiota prefers complex carbohydrates over any other food source,” says Dr. Cresci. After your gut bacteria feast on carbs, they send compounds called short-chain fatty acids into your bloodstream, which can help reduce inflammation and boost your immune system.

Most foods that contain complex carbohydrates are also high in fiber, which helps you feel full. In one study, people who were asked to eat 30g of fiber a day in addition to their usual diet lost about as much weight as those who followed a strict (and likely much less enjoyable) diet.

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The carbs you don’t want

Refined carbs — those in white bread, cookies, and chips — have the opposite effect of the complex kind. After eating, say, a jam donut, your blood sugar rises, your insulin levels rise, and your gut bacteria spits out inflammatory compounds, Dr. Cresci says. The odd indulgence won’t do any harm, of course. But too often, you’re exposing yourself to potential metabolic dysfunction.

It’s true that if you eliminate almost all carbs from your diet, you’ll lose a lot of weight, but not for the reason you might think. With a low-carb diet, your body uses up its muscle glycogen stores. And for every bit of muscle glycogen you burn, your body releases twice as much water, says Dr. Cresci. So those initial pounds you lose will come from water, not just body fat.

Eating more oats, quinoa, beans and sweet potatoes and fewer pastries sounds incredibly simple, but there are pitfalls to watch out for. Beware of products that are sold as low fat. When food producers remove fat from foods such as yogurts or salad dressings, they often replace the lost flavor with processed sugar (a carbohydrate), which is more easily converted into body fat than unprocessed carbohydrates, says Dr. Cresci . You better stick to the real deal.

Don’t let the gluten-free trend hook you, either: Many gluten-free foods contain more sugar and calories than their conventional counterparts. Unless you’re one of the relatively small minority of people with celiac disease or known sensitivity, you probably don’t need to rule out grains such as wheat, barley, and rye.

And, finally, to settle the fruit debate. While berries, bananas, and the like contain simple carbs, they are high in fiber, which slows their absorption. In fact, a recent BMJ A study found that fruit fiber can reduce your risk of heart disease. “Anyone who cuts down on fruit to cut down on sugar is making a mistake,” says Dr. Sacks.

Fueling your fitness with carbs

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, serving as fuel for high intensity and endurance exercise. If your fitness routine is intense — say, you’re training for a marathon — you need an additional 40-60g of carbs per hour of training to perform at your best, says Stuart Galloway, who studies metabolism exercise at the University of Stirling, Scotland. Another way to think about it is to add an extra gram of carbs per minute of training.

When it comes to “carb cycling,” there’s no solid evidence to suggest that switching between high-carb days and low-carb days improves performance. Some experts say it can even harm your health by contributing to low-grade inflammation, says Dr. Cresci.

After your workout, you need to replenish those carbs and take in some protein. Raising insulin levels may help with protein synthesis and muscle building, according to a study conducted in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests. Aim for a carb to protein ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 post-workout. Some good choices are chocolate milk (really), apple slices with almond butter, or pita and hummus.

The bottom line? Eat a consistent amount of complex carbohydrates each day (unless you’re running a marathon or doing something similar) from a variety of whole-food sources. For an appetizing prescription, try our recipes on the page.

Why carbs aren’t the enemy of weight loss

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