Science Confirms It: Carbs Don't Make You Fat
First and foremost, I want to say that I do not think carbs are “bad.” In fact, I personally never use the words “good” and “bad” to describe a food. I believe this causes a harsh relationship with food and can lead to food disorders.
That being said, here are my thoughts on carbs. It’s undeniable that low-carb diets are very effective in helping to lose weight quickly. They have stood the test of time for decades and have ample research to support their effectiveness. Two of the main reasons why low-carb diets are so effective for weight loss are the high protein content, as well as the appetite-suppressing effects of the diet. This ultimately leads to a reduction in caloric intake and subsequent weight loss.
The weight loss commonly seen in the first week of a low-carb diet, however, is largely attributed to water weight, not actual fat. Why does this occur? Because for every gram of glycogen there is about 3g. of water that comes with it. Thus, low carb diets not only deplete glycogen stores but they also encourage water loss. This leads to a false belief that tons of fat was lost quickly.
On the same note, when you eat carbs again after being on a low carb diet, all this water weight comes back and it is mistaken for rapid fat gain. It is easy to start seeing why people have a bad image of carbs right? But, is all this necessary? Interestingly, numerous studies have shown that, as long as there is a caloric deficit, there are no differences in fat loss regardless of the amount of carb intake. This suggests that caloric intake plays a larger role in weight loss than carbs.
So, where does this “carbs make me fat” theory come from? Well, from a couple of places. The most popular theory goes like this:
1. Carbs cause an insulin spike.
2. Insulin inhibits fat breakdown and promotes fat storage.
3. Carbs make you fat via insulin.
This is very simplistic and inaccurate logic. Sure, we know by now that insulin does, in fact, cause storage of fat when food is in excess. However, it also helps build and preserve muscle, take fat out of the blood, and fill glycogen stores to help with exercise performance.
By the way, high protein foods cause the release of insulin and, in some cases, almost as high as carbs. So, you see, insulin is not the enemy of your weight loss. Insulin is just the messenger and will only promote fat storage in the presence of excess calories.
Another reason carbs get the blame is because they are the nutrient that undergoes the most processing, refining, and addition of sugars. This makes them a prime suspect for overeating. These addictive, high-sugar, refined foods are packed with calories, but void of many vitamins, minerals and fiber. This means that you continue to consume more and more of these calories in search for feeling full.
Just take a can of soda for example. This will contain about 300 calories, with no value to feeling full. It’s easy to see how this leads to the over-consumption of calories. However, because carbs are the source of over- consumption, they get the bad reputation instead of the real reason – a surplus of calories.
To be clear, a surplus of calories of any macronutrient (carb, fat, protein) will lead to fat storage, not just carbs. It is just a matter of it being easier to overeat on carbs. But, it’s false to think that the only solution is elimination or extreme restriction.
I feel that for most people the elimination of an entire food category, such as carbs, is not sustainable, flexible, or realistic. These, in my opinion, are the fundamental principles to a successful long-term weight loss plan.
Food is essential to people’s culture, religion, social life, emotions and overall well-being. If you feel deprived or restricted, there is no way you are going to keep up those eating habits. This is backed by mountains of research that show that low-carb diets do, indeed, lead to more weight loss initially but, in the long-term, weight was regained and sometimes with interest.
For these reasons, I promote the consumption of carbs in a weight loss journey and believe it will benefit you long-term. Admittedly, some people are more sensitive than others to carbs, but these are not the vast majority of people. At the end of the day, a caloric deficit is more important in terms of weight loss.