Do Carbs Cause Weight Gain?
If I were to ask you what type of food causes the most amount of weight gain, what would you choose?
Most of us would go with some type of carbohydrate like sugar, desserts, or a starch like pasta or bread.
Over the years carbohydrates or carbs for short, have gotten a really bad rap.
They've become the villain of healthy nutrition and made out to be the cause of weight gain.
So, are carbs something you should avoid? Are they unhealthy? And are they the cause of weight gain?
Before we get into it, let's talk about what carbs are.
Carbohydrates main role in our body is to provide energy. Think of carbs as the gasoline in your car that gives it the fuel to go.
They are very beneficial for energy throughout your day, during exercise, and aid in recovery after a workout.
Carbohydrates can be stored in our muscle or liver cells as glycogen. These stores can be used during physical activity or when you are not actively supplying carbs through your diet (when fasting or asleep).
Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.
Carbohydrates come from a variety of sources including:
Fruits and vegetables
Grain products like bread and oats
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese (these also often contain a good amount of protein and fat)
So why do carbs get a bad rap and do they cause weight gain?
Carbs have been treated as something bad for us for years. This started from the fact that carbs really aren't an essential food. This means we can actually survive without eating them.
But do we really need to? Can carbs be a healthy addition to our lives, provide energy, and actually help us lose weight?
Let's dig in.
Carbs have what's known as a high glycemic index. This refers to when we eat and digest carbs, our blood sugar rises and in-turn insulin spikes. The higher the glycemic index, the more our blood sugar spikes and thus insulin. When insulin spikes, fat-loss is temporarily blunted.
This created a mindset that carbs must be bad and that they must cause weight gain.
That is just not correct.
In fact, protein causes a rise in insulin as well.
This thinking that individual foods like carbs cause weight gain misses the bigger picture. In healthy individuals, when you eat carbs, blood sugars rises and so does insulin. Once eating and digestion is over, your blood sugar and insulin spike decreases to normal and fat-burning continues.
Avoidance in carbs caused the rise in popular diets like the Atkins diet and other popular low-carb diets and meal plans.
"But Matt, I know someone who lost a lot weight on a low carb diet!"
Low carb diets don't cause people to lose weight because they remove carbs, they cause people to lose weight because the reduction in carbs caused a reduction in total calories.
Fat burning has to do with your total calorie intake, not the specific foods that you eat.
I want to repeat that.
If you want to lose weight, shred fat, and get more defined, the most important thing to focus on is your total calories.
To lose weight, you need to be in consistently in what's known as a calorie deficit.
This means you're consistently consuming less calories than your burning each day.
So can you lose weight and still eat carbs? YES! (as long as you're in a calorie deficit)
Can you enjoy the foods you love (in moderation) like pasta, pizza, and bread and still lose weight? YES! (as long as you're in a calorie deficit)
So enjoying that pasta isn't going to magically turn into fat? No, as long as it doesn't push your total calories too high.
So carbs aren't the villain they've been made out to be? NO!
What we know is that weight-loss is less about looking at specific foods and more about how many calories you're taking in on a consistent basis.
How much carbohydrate should I be eating?
This is a great question and something that we work on individually with our nutrition coaching members.
There is not a one size fits all approach to this question as people have different needs when it comes to carbs and total calories.
More active people like endurance athletes need a higher percentage of their total calories to come from carbs as they need the fuel for training vs a more sedentary individual.
Now, I want to be clear that if you are enjoying carbs as part of your diet, the amount that you eat, along with the amount of calories that come from protein and fat is the most important thing to consider when it comes to fat-loss.
From there, it's about quality. Not all carbs are created equal as some have more sugar and others have more healthy contents like vitamins, minerals, and fiber (think simple vs complex).
Here are some great carbohydrate options:
- Vegetables (broccoli, spinach, carrots, asparagus, green beans, bell peppers, etc.)
- Fruit (strawberries, blueberries, apples, etc.)
- Rice (brown or jasmine)
- Sweet potatoes
- Red potatoes
- Spaghetti squash
We coach our members how to still enjoy the foods they love and lose weight. Our mission is make eating for fat-loss easy and sustainable!