How You Can Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight

bread

December 28, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Betsy Varghese, M.D.

“You are what you eat” is an old catchphrase you may have heard growing up. It’s a reminder that food choices matter, and all foods aren’t created equal in terms of health value and how they affect your body.

“Overeating is often the primary cause of obesity but is largely dependent on what type of foods are overeaten,” shares obesity medicine specialist, Betsy Varghese, M.D. 

For example, if you overeat foods with low calorie density and high fiber (think vegetables, fruits, fiber filled carbs), you can essentially eat a large quantity and still lose weight because the fiber keeps you fuller longer and eating less throughout the course of the day. These foods are also lower in calories compared to processed carbs and high fat animal proteins.

What, Not How Much

Humans require energy to live, and we get that energy from food and drinks. Our most important source of energy is carbohydrates. Once your body uses up its storage of carbohydrates, it will use protein and fat for energy. Processed carbs have a high glycemic load, which means they spike our blood sugar levels, making us tired and hungry. These foods affect hormones and alter our metabolism so that we store fat and gain weight.

“Our bodies can usually manage these blood sugar spikes, but over time, a person can develop diabetes and other health complications,” says Dr. Varghese   

Carbs are Not the Enemy

“As a culture we have defined all carbs as ‘bad.’ This has led to diets which are high in fat and cholesterol which can lead to weight loss but likely contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease,” shares Dr. Varghese.

In today’s world, we are surrounded by foods that contain highly processed carbs, which makes it challenging at times to identify healthy options. But the answer isn’t necessarily to swear off carbs altogether because they are an essential part of our diets. They provide fuel for our bodies and contain fiber, which helps you digest foods. The trick is to eat more whole carbohydrates, such as vegetables, beans, potatoes and whole grains. Eat refined carbs less frequently, including white bread, pastries, pastas, sugary soft drinks, pizza and other fast foods.

Alternatives to Common Processed Carbs

With processed carbs seemingly everywhere, it can be hard to know what’s healthy and what’s not. Here are some healthier alternatives to common processed carbohydrates:

Instead of…

eat these:

white or sourdough bread

whole-wheat, whole-grain bread

white rice

brown rice or cauliflower rice

cereal

oatmeal

pasta

whole-grain pasta or zucchini pasta

soda

water with lemon slice or iced green tea

candy

apple, orange or berries

potato chips

sliced cucumbers or carrot chips

ice cream

frozen yogurt or frozen banana

“An easy way to improve your diet is to make half your plate consist of vegetables at meals,” says Dr. Varghese. “Aim to eat whole grains over processed carbs as much as possible.” This simple guideline, paired with about 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, can provide lots of health benefits and help ward off diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

Timing for Carb Consumption Matters

Fiber filled carbs such as those seen in brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, beans/legumes can be beneficial for weight loss when introduced during the appropriate times.

It is best to introduce these carbs earlier in the day when anticipated activity (and therefore energy expenditure) is expected to be the highest.

“To lose weight, it is still beneficial to minimize all carbs in the evening (or when energy expenditure is lowest),” adds Dr. Varghese. “That being said, if you are going to consume a carb regardless- you are better off consuming a fiber filled carb over a processed carb due to less fat, less sugar and less blood sugar spikes.”

It’s time to stop starving yourself to lose weight—instead, pay attention to what you’re eating (not how much), and you’ll be on a path to better health in no time.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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