When it comes to the root causes of weight gain, there are numerous factors that could be involved. Over the past few decades, carbohydrates (aka carbs), in particular, have developed a controversial reputation, leading many to wonder if carbs can make you gain weight. This is why many low-carb diets have been part of the zeitgeist for longer than you even realized. Although the science behind understanding how carbs affect weight may seem modern, low-carb diets have been around since the 1860s. Of course, just because low-carb diets have taken off doesn’t mean that everyone tries to maintain their low-carb intake.
In fact, in a national cross-sectional study published by JAMA in 2019 that included 43,996 adults, researchers found that only 9% of the average American’s daily diet consisted of high-quality carbohydrates from sources such as fruit and whole grain foods. . On the other hand, 42% of daily calories appeared to come from low-quality carbohydrates. (Eco!)
Although this may make you assume that it is best to reduce immediately and perhaps significantly the number of carbs you eat, that is not necessarily true. In fact, there are several things dietitians would like you to know about carbohydrates, including what they are, how they can affect your health and weight, as well as how to find the right balance when which includes carbs. your daily diet.
So do carbs make you gain weight? To find out the answer to this question and to better understand the correlation between carb consumption and weight, we went to the experts.
What are carbs?
“Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that provide the body with energy in the form of calories,” Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LDand a member of our Board of Medical Experts, who tells Eat This, Not That! “They are divided into three categories: Fiber, starch, and sugar. Most of the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the digestive process except for fiber – fiber is not digestible, and instead, it feeds the bacteria friendly in the digestive system.”
Goodson also explains that carbs “provide energy for the body in general and during exercise, as well as helping to keep blood sugar stable.”
“High-fiber carbohydrates help your gut by providing prebiotic fiber that feeds good bacteria,” says Goodson. “And some carbohydrates also provide soluble fiber, which may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”
Look at the types of carbs
You can think of all carbs as the same thing. However, there are two distinct types of carbs, each of which comes from different sources. They also affect your body very differently.
The first type of carbs you should be aware of is complex carbs.
“Complex carbohydrates are composed of sugar molecules in long chains,” he explains Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FANDaward-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of the future Up Your Veggies: Flexible Recipes for the Whole Family“They can be divided into two groups: starch and fiber. Starches include potatoes, rice, and pasta, while fiber includes vegetables like broccoli and cucumbers, and whole grains like brown rice.”
“Simple carbs are the other group in the carbohydrate category that are made up of monosaccharides (single sugars) and disaccharides (double sugars),” says Amidor.
Some examples of complex carbohydrates include fruit, honey, and dairy products such as milk.
Next, there are refined carbs.
“Refined carbs are more processed and stripped of fiber, and various other nutrients (although some refined carbs are fortified with additional nutrients) and, because of that, are digested faster,” he says. Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDNCEO of The NY Nutrition Group and author The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan, and a member of our Board of Medical Experts. “Refined carbs include refined flour and added sugar.”
“When you have a whole grain, there are three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm (the starchy part). A whole grain has all these parts intact,” explains Amidor. “However, refined grains only include part of the grain – the starchy part – and not the whole grain.”
“The grains used in these products are stripped of many of the nutrients found in whole grains,” said Amidor. “[Because of this]you see the word ‘enriched’ in many refined products, as the food manufacturer has put back many of the lost nutrients.”
Examples of refined carbohydrates include white rice, white pasta, and white bread such as traditional pizza dough and pastries.
how do carbs make you gain weight
“If you eat large portions of any type of carb (complex or simple) or too many carbs throughout the day – this can lead to overconsumption of calories – and over time, weight gain,” he says Amidor.
In addition, Amidor claims that “high in refined calories, high in added sugar, and high in saturated fat carbs (such as cakes, cookies, pastries)) can easily add to the calories and lead to weight gain over time time.”
That’s why – like any other food – carbohydrates are eaten within a healthy context of choosing quality carbs and eating them in moderation as part of a well-balanced nutritious meal.
Find a healthy balance
Just like many things in life, when it comes to healthy carb consumption, it’s all about balance and moderation. While too many carbs can be an issue, the same can be said about not getting enough healthy carbs in your diet.
“Although you can survive on a low-carb diet, you may find that not eating enough carbs can cause poor energy, fatigue, irritability, and increased cravings for carbohydrates or sugar,” says Moskowitz. “Carbs also provide fiber which is an essential nutrient for gut health and regulating digestion, as well as preventing degenerative diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
To achieve a healthy balance, Moskovitz advises you to “focus on choosing higher fiber carbohydrates that are digested more slowly, and therefore keep you fuller for a longer period of time. These include fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils , and whole grains,” she said. “The more nutritious and fiber-rich carbs you eat, the less likely you are to eat comfortably full in the past.”
Beyond that, Moskovitz recommends “balancing your carbs with plenty of slow-digesting fats like nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and anti-inflammatory organic avocado oil, as well as lean protein like fish, eggs and poultry.”
“It’s recommended that half of your carbs come from whole grain sources. Vegetables and dairy have their own groups, but they provide carbs as well as other nutrients,” says Amidor.
“The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and USDA’s MyPlate provide guidelines for men and women on how many carbs they should be eating,” says Amidor. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to how many carbs men and women should eat, in general, this depends on your age, current weight, how active you are , your medical history, and other factors.
Your lifestyle, in particular, and the amount of physical activity you do each day can greatly affect the amount of carbs you should eat daily.
“Carbohydrates are needed based on the amount of exercise you do; move a lot, you need more carbohydrates, move less, you need less carbohydrates,” Goodson explains. “Think of it as a car; the more you drive your car around, the more gas you have to put in it to fuel it. [It’s the] same concept.”
Goodson also shares advice on how to best determine the right amount of carbs to fuel your body.
“A good rule of thumb to follow, if you are active and workout multiple times a week, is to make meals 1/3 of your whole grain plate carbohydrate, 1/3 lean protein, and 1/3 vegetables,” says Goodson . “If you want to lose weight, tweak your plate to be 1/4 of your whole grain carbohydrate plate, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/2 vegetables; this will help you fill up on more fiber with for fewer calories.
“Then it’s important to incorporate a high-fiber carbohydrate or fruit with a protein or healthy fat at a snack,” adds Goodson. “Greek yogurt with berries, whole grain crackers with cheese, 100% whole grain granola bar and beef jerky, an apple with 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter, etc,” she suggests.