Carbohydrates are an essential food component. They are one of the three macronutrients in food that we consume daily. They have been nicknamed carbs. And if carbs could talk, they would ask everyone to give them a break. The idea that carbs make you fat has been repeated many times; it feels true to most of us.
Most unintended weight gain is often blamed on the consumption of carbs. But, contrary to the popular carbs make you fat myth, you need carbs for every function. This includes the loss of fat, muscle gain, and weight management. It all depends on what type of carbs you consume and in what quantity.
The Carbs Make You Make Fat Myth
You might be wondering why this is a myth. You may have been told that there is no evidence that carbs are not responsible for weight gain. The best way to understand how carbs work is to understand their components and body.
There are three types of carbohydrates. They include sugars, which are also called monosaccharides and are easily absorbable as they are. Starch contains longer chains of sugars and is also called a polysaccharide. The third type of carbohydrate is dietary fiber which is also a polysaccharide. These polysaccharides need to be broken down into monosaccharides for absorption. Unlike starch, dietary fiber can not be digested by the gut.
The carbohydrates you consume are broken down in the digestive system by enzymes. This breakdown reduces them to a monosaccharide to enable the small intestine to absorb into the bloodstream. Following absorption, the blood sugar rises and stimulates insulin release. This prompts glucose absorption by cells.
The subsequent insulin also signals the liver to store any excess glucose for later use. The liver, like phone storage, has a limited capacity. Whatever excess glucose the liver can’t store turns into fat and is stored in the body’s fat cells for later use.
Even though it has been disapproved in various studies, the myth that carbs make you fat might have its origin from this theory (2).
Why Carbs Don’t Make You Fat
There are free sugars in drinks, chocolate, honey, and syrups. They are also present in natural fruit and juices, unsweetened smoothies, and vegetable juice.
Starch is a plant-based nutrient such as potatoes and rice. You’ve probably heard the term “starchy vegetables” before. Starch is a polysaccharide that is often broken down slowly throughout the day to provide the body with energy.
Starch is a plant-based nutrient such as potatoes and rice. They are a polysaccharide that is often broken down slowly throughout the day to provide the body with energy.
It is found in plant-based food cell walls, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
It is recommended to get 45-65% of your daily energy from carbs in your diet. They are the primary energy source for your brain, to fuel your muscle movements and to perform every function your body needs to throughout the day. Carbs are not the problem. They have never been.
Regular eating of refined carbs and added sugars leads to a rise in the level of glucose in the body. The receptors of insulin found in the cells then become desensitized due to the escalated glucose levels. This makes them less capable of taking up glucose as required.
Once that happens, the body produces more insulin to prompt the cells to open up to absorb the glucose. That doesn’t happen because the de-sensitivity of the receptors cannot be curbed by more insulin. There is a pool of insulin in the body, which is forced to direct the unabsorbed glucose to the fat cells.
In the fat cells, the glucose will be converted to fat and stored. The storage of fat in the tissues is not a bad thing. This is because it acts as a reservoir for energy when the body needs it.
That is where carbs get their bad name. It isn’t the carbs; it is with the number of carbs that you consume. Carbs don’t make you fat if you consume them in reasonable quantities. Insulin promotes the accumulation of fat in a situation where the body is flooded with too much glucose.
Insulin also plays a huge role in making you feel hungry. If the food you are consuming is more starch and sugar, the cycle of glucose accumulation continues.
Because of the popularity of the idea that high carbs make you fat, many people have turned to a low-carb diet. By doing this, they believe that they will either lose weight faster or not gain weight. But that is a misleading fallacy.
The truth is that while a low-carb diet can reduce the level of insulin in the body, it does not magically lead to weight loss. A large randomized controlled trial found no difference in weight loss over 12 months between people on a low-carb versus a low-fat diet.
Calorie Surplus: The Real Culprit Behind Weight Gain
Do calories or carbs make you fat? This is the real question you should be asking. Calories are defined as the energy contained within a drink or food that you consume. As carbs silently take all the punch for things they didn’t do, the calories, sit back and never get mentioned.
The truth is that calories are the real culprits. I am sure you have mentioned that you are burning some calories, but I am not sure you have given it a serious thought.
While carbs have been demonized, it is evident that they are a central part of our diet. Therefore, they cannot be eliminated or be substituted. To repair the damage done to the carbs image, we need to understand that the problem is not the carbs as confirmed by the previously mentioned controlled study.
High insulin levels as a result of a higher-carb diet were not the reason for the subjects weight gain. In fact, both groups lost a similar amount of weight throughout the study.
It is the calories in the food that lead to weight gain. This happens when you consume more calories than you use up. Increased food consumption provides more calories. If you increase your calorie intake without increasing your energy expenditure, that excess energy will get stored as fat, and over time you will gain weight.
There are various ways to burn calories, but exercising remains the most popular one. You can also be more aware of your calorie consumption by checking the packaging. Often, calories might be listed as energy on the box or can. To keep a healthy body weight, the average man requires 2,500 kcal per day while women need 2, 000kcal. If you participate in extreme activities, you need more calories than an average person does.
Effects Of Eliminating Carbs From Your Diet
If you are eliminating carbs from your diet because they make you gain body fat, think again. Complete elimination of carbs from your diet can be detrimental to your health. Complete exclusion of carbs from your diet can lead to fatigue, nausea, depression, and general body weakness since carbs are energy-giving food.
In a sense, carbs are your friend. You just need a healthy way of indulging in them.
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How To Include Carbs In A Healthy Diet?
If you have asked, why does eating carbs make you gain body fat? You know by now that there are a lot of factors that are involved in whether and how carbs make you fat. They are just calorie carriers like most other foods.
Hoping that we have absolved carbs, it is necessary to understand how to include carbs in your diet in a healthy manner. Remember, too much of anything can be bad for you, which also applies to carbs. Any food consumed in high quantities has a likelihood of having a negative effect in the end.
It is established that carbs are a necessary diet in your daily food consumption. There are different types of carbohydrates. These carbs all have their unique effects on the body.
Carbohydrate-rich foods can be grouped into two categories: complex carbs and refined carbs.
These are usually rich in fiber and need a longer time to digest. Contrary to the ideology that complex carbs make you fat, they don’t. They stay longer in the GI tract, making you feel full and satisfied for a long time after eating them.
They are the most recommended because they are amazing helpers when it comes to dieting. Feeling full for longer can help reduce the number of calories you consume throughout the day, without making you feel deprived or hungry.
The types of complex carbs you can factor into your diet include beans, which are also a great source of protein. We also have both starchy and non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Refined carbs are probably the most prevalent in the day-to-day diet. They are anything from white pasta, pizza, white bread, white rice, and pastries. Unfortunately, they are also the most popular. Consider the number of pizza places and the pastry craze that you might happen to be a part of.
These are carbs with no or reduced nutrient content. The fiber and some other nutrients have been removed or reduced to give them the refined texture and taste that you enjoy. Unfortunately, they add little value to your body in terms of nutrition. They might fill your stomach but not fuel your wellbeing. These carbs are easily digestible and can lead to weight gain because of the high insulin levels and excess energy they provide. In doing so, they promote lifestyle diseases such as diabetes if not moderated (4).
If complex carbs and refined carbs were compared in their diet value, complex carbs would win. That’s because complex carbs are a great source of nutrients and fiber. Complex carbs are also referred to as smart carbs.
When consumed in the right portions, complex carbs will increase your daily productivity. They also replenish the energy that you might be using in a day. Due to the long digestion process, they provide sustained fullness and energy, reducing your need to eat as much or as frequently.
Healthy Tips For Including Carbs In Your Diet
While we advocate for carbs, they have to be included in your diet in a healthy way. These are just a few ideas on how to do that.
Begin Your Day With Whole-Grain Meals
Select cereals that contain fiber not less than four grams. To make the balance work, ensure the sugar content is eight grams or less per serving. When picking out the cereal, ensure whole grain is listed as the first thing, and sugar is one of the last.
Have Bread For Lunch
It is advisable to eat whole-grain bread for lunch or as a midday snack. Check the ingredients list when purchasing to be sure that you are consuming what you know.
Not Bread This Time
Bread is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of carbs. However, there are products such as brown rice that will serve the dietary purpose just as well. Put it on your carbs meal plan. Brown rice matters!
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Fruits For Carbs
While a cold glass of blended juice is refreshing, consider whole fruits. A slice of orange has more fiber content than a glass of orange juice. Consider whole fruits rather than just the juice. Bananas, apples, and mangoes are just a few other fruits that will give you a healthy dose of carbs. Dried fruits such as raisins and dates are also a great carb source, just remember that the recommended portion size for dried fruit is smaller.
Find Substitute For Potatoes
Potatoes are the best. They can be mashed, made into French fries, eaten whole, or made into chips. You should know that potatoes don’t count toward your half-plate of vegetables. They are actually a fairly quickly-absorbed carb source (5). Substituting potatoes with beans is even better. They not only provide fiber-rich carbs but are also rich in proteins. You will be fulfilling two major dietary requirements in one eating.
Check Your Portions
Here is a final tip if you are still confused about how much carbs portion you should be consuming. Your hand is the perfect measurement for the food portions you serve. This is because they are always proportional to your body. Your palm serves as a good measure for the serving of protein you should consume. Your fist is proportionate to a 1-cup serving of vegetables. For carbs, a cupped hand is all you need (3).
From the carbs make you fat myth to carbs can’t make you fat, you have enough evidence to change your mind about carbs. Some carbs have better fiber and nutritional content than others, as in the case of complex and refined carbs. There is also a wide range of healthy sources for carbs. The truth is, one food type can be a source of vitamins, proteins, and carbs. The secret is to know what the content of the food you eat is and in what quantity. Calories are the main culprits of weight gain, while carbs have important nutritional value to your body.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. (2015, pubmed.NCBI)
- Obesity Energetics: Body Weight Regulation and the Effects of Diet Composition (2017, gastrojournal.org)
- Portion control guide (n.d., mtsac.edu)
- The Nutrition Source Carbohydrates: quality matters (n.d., harvard.edu)
- The problem with potatoes (n.d., harvard.edu)