Carbohydrates can be portrayed as the bad guy during weight loss. Carbohydrates are digested fairly easily and raise blood glucose levels once digested. When this happens, insulin is released. Insulin brings the blood glucose into body cells so they can use it for energy or store for use later. Insulin also promotes fat storage. Therefore, constantly releasing insulin from eating carbohydrates may hinder weight loss.
Does this mean carbohydrates should be avoided during weight loss? Not necessarily. Fiber slows the absorption of glucose from the digestive tract into the blood stream. Therefore, high fiber carbohydrate sources will not raise insulin levels as high as simple carbohydrates like sweets, juice, soda, refined grains and baked goods. (See also: How many carbs you should eat per day).
If you are trying to lose weight, you just need to be smart about your carbohydrate choices. Here are some examples of the best carbs you can have for weight loss and overall health.
Beans are a rich source of fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium and iron. Beans are a carbohydrate source, but because they are so high in fiber they are considered a low glycemic index or load food. This means they do not raise blood sugar levels that much after eating them.
Because they are so high in fiber, they can be quite filling which is beneficial for weight loss. Adding beans to meals can be an easy way to bump up the fiber and nutrients of a meal without drastically increasing the calories.
Vegetables are on the “ok” list for almost any diet because they are so low in calories, high in fiber and high in nutrients. Some weight loss plans limit higher carbohydrate vegetables like corn and potatoes, but other vegetables are a no brainer for piling on.
Even during weight loss, don’t limit vegetables. They are probably the best carbohydrate source because of their high nutrient density. In fact, it is recommended to vary your vegetable intake and eat all the colors of the rainbow as much as you can.
Fruit is usually higher in carbohydrates compared to vegetables. People can be wary of fruits during weight loss and think eating fruit may hinder weight loss. However, the exact opposite may be true according to a 2003 study. Research participants who ate 3 apples or pears daily lost more weight than the group who had oatmeal cookies as a snack instead of the fruit. (See also: How apples help you lose weight)
Fruit is high in fiber which makes it satisfying. Fruit juice does not have the fiber like real fruit, so the effect on the body will be different. Fruit juice raises blood sugar levels much more than real fruit.
If you have any blood sugar issues, lowering fruit intake is sometimes recommended. Speak with your doctor if you have any questions about your individual concerns.
Why does cutting all carbohydrates work for weight loss?
Some diets will recommend to limit all carbohydrates the first few weeks when starting a diet. This can give a jump start to weight loss. The reason why is that when you cut carbohydrates, you will lose water weight and most of the time lean mass.
Carbohydrate storage in the body, called glycogen, is bulky and also hold water. By following a very low carbohydrate diet, your body will burn through glycogen causing weight loss.
Your brain requires carbohydrates as a fuel. If you don’t get enough through the diet, your body will convert amino acids and fatty acids to look like carbohydrates to send to the brain so it can still function. This process is called ketosis, and some diets want you to go into ketosis for weight loss.
Some long term research trials concluded that long term ketogenesis may not be harmful as previously thought. However, a side effect from a low carbohydrate diet may be low energy, decreased muscle mass and gaining weight back after eating carbohydrates again.
Should you cut out carbohydrates?
Some health conditions may require a reduced amount of carbohydrates in the diet, especially if a person is glucose intolerant or at risk for diabetes. However, in general cutting out healthy sources of carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables and legumes means you are cutting out sources of key nutrients your body needs like antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Many research studies also show a benefit to diets rich in plant based foods.
Any health professional will agree that cutting out added sugar is beneficial. However, when it comes to cutting out foods that are nutrient dense, it may not be the best.
Once digested, carbohydrates stimulate an insulin response in the body. Insulin is a storage promoting hormone that promotes fat storage. However, not all carbohydrates need to be avoided during weight loss.
Beans, vegetables and fruit are packed with fiber and nutrients. The fiber helps slow the release of glucose into the blood stream lowering the amount of insulin needed. Cutting out these nutrient dense foods, just to lower carbohydrate content, may not always be the best for overall health depending on your health condition.
Cutting out added sugar is always a good recommendation, but natural carbohydrate sources like beans, vegetables and fruits can offer other health advantages.
References used in this article