Nutrition Blog

Are Carbs Making You Fat?

Are Carbs Making You Fat?

The carbohydrate. Demonized, vilified and shunned. The thought of a bread roll or steaming pasta on a bowl is enough to throw most people in a tizzy! But what is so terribly awful about the carb? Most think it contributes to weight gain and should be avoided at all costs. It doesn’t help that diet culture is constantly in our face, tempting and taunting us to try the next best thing, the next quick fix, promises of bikini ready bodies for long lazy days at the beach. Will you lose the weight avoiding carbs? Sure, until you gain it all back. But do you know why?

Well, let’s start with the facts: carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients; the others being protein and fat. Fat was the culprit for weight gain in the 80’s until the attention shifted to its cousin the carb, in the 2000’s. Carbs and protein offer 4 calories per gram. Fat offers 9 and alcohol 7 calories per gram. If you strictly look at the numbers, fat and alcohol should technically be the target if you are looking to save calories and desire weight loss since they have more calories to offer per gram. So why are carbs so bad?

Well, some feel that carbs are fattening. Some low-carb advocates and keto enthusiasts will say that carbs drive weight gain because they raise the levels of insulin in the body. Insulin is the hormone that carries glucose (which is what carbs break down to) into our cells and provides the energy we need for all of our organs to work. Insulin is also said to block the breakdown of fat and drive fat storage. If the theory that raised insulin levels leads to fat storage, it stands to reason that low carb diets would lead to lower insulin levels and fat loss, right? Wrong. There is no actual research to support this theory.

While you will definitely lose weight quickly at the start of a low carb diet, you are mainly losing water and not fat, which is what happens when you restrict carbohydrates. So the idea that carbs are “fattening” is just not true.

How about the fact that our bodies actually need carbs? They convert into glucose in order to feed our muscles and our brains! They are the main fuel for our brain and red blood cells. The minimum amount of carbs an adult needs per day in order to prevent illness and disease is 130 grams. Your body is counting on you to provide it with what it needs!

Now, are all carbs created equal? Maybe not. Refined sugars and grains contain few nutrients and unnecessary calories. Fiber rich carbs like fruits, vegetables and whole grains take longer to digest, keep you fuller longer, and tend not to spike blood sugars. Conversely, more refined sugars and carbs can make you feel hungry and intensify carb cravings that can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Another problem is the guilt associated with the carbs. People feel guilty when eating carbs so they tend to deny themselves of these foods, and in the end, most end up overeating the very foods they were trying to avoid. The result is feelings of guilt and the need to deprive oneself that leads to overeating and on and on it goes!

No food is forbidden, but balance is key!

The bottom line: think about foods as whole and do not just consider each individual nutrient. Although low carb diets can be effective in the short term, most people cannot live without some form of carb for life, so the trick is to learn to incorporate and balance higher fiber carbs with other macronutrients, while reserving refined carbs as a treat instead of making them the “star of the show”. Remember, no food is forbidden, but balance is key!

Are you ready to stop dieting? I can help you find a healthy balance to your eating habits again (carbs and all!) Head over to my Contact Page to request an appointment or check my regular Facebook Live videos for more tips on healthy cooking.

Voula Manousos’ writing is featured in the “Winchester Living Magazine” and “The Winchester Star” of Wicked Local.

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