Do I need to cut out carbs to lose weight?
Carbohydrates, commonly known as carbs, are one of the three major food groups and are the primary source of energy for the body. Long since being shunned by nutrition and bodybuilding communities for being the “diet bad guy,” carbs are making a comeback!
Before we dive right into the “are carbs okay for weight loss?” discussion, let’s briefly go over what exactly carbohydrates are and what happens inside your body when you consume them.
What are Simple Carbohydrates? 🍩
Not all carbs are created equal – so to speak. On one hand, you have simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates are the smallest and simplest type of carbohydrates; also known as monosaccharides (one sugar unit) and disaccharides (two sugar units). Certain sugars, such as lactose (found in milk) occur naturally in food. Others, such as sucrose, are artificially added to food. Simple carbs are water soluble and thus are quickly absorbed through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream, resulting in a spike in blood sugar and an energy boost. Simple carbohydrates are usually high on the glycemic index.
What are Complex Carbohydrates?
On the other hand, you have complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates include starches and fiber. Starches are found in foods such as potatoes, rice, wheat, and corn. Starches are not water soluble and thus require digestive enzymes called amylases to break them apart. This slower digestion process results in a prolonged release of energy versus a rapid one, as seen with simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates are usually low on the glycemic index.
Fiber, on the other hand, is not a source of energy, but has many other health benefits – such as promoting gut health.
How does the body digest carbohydrates?
Where does digestion begin? The mouth! (If there are two things I think we all remember from high school its that digestion begins in the mouth! And the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell!)
The body begins the process of breaking down carbs into individual monosaccharides as soon as they reach your mouth. Since your saliva contains small amounts of amylase – the enzyme that breaks down starch into glucose –simple forms of carbohydrates begin to break down as soon as you begin chewing.
Carbohydrate digestion continues in the small intestine, where the carbs are met with pancreatic amylase. Amylase breaks down the remaining carbohydrates into monosaccharides that can be easily absorbed into the blood stream.
Once in the blood, these monosaccharides are either used for energy, stored in the liver and muscles are glycogen, or converted to fat and stored in adipose tissue (fat).
Are certain carbs ‘better for you’?
Well… yes and no. The answer to this question is not so black and white.
Carbs that are high on the glycemic index (simple sugars) will digest faster, spike your blood sugar and invoke a higher and more rapid insulin response. This will result in a drop in insulin and blood sugar after digestion – which is usually known as a ‘carb crash’.
You can expect the opposite from carbs low on the glycemic index. These carbs digest much slower, thus releasing glucose at a slower rate. This slow, continual release of glucose keeps your insulin and blood sugar levels slightly elevated for a longer duration of time than their counterparts. There is usually no ‘carb crash’ associated with carbohydrates low on the glycemic index; so you don’t have to worry about your blood sugar dropping too low after digestion has taken place.
Normally we’ve been told that high-glycemic carbs (such as bread, pasta, and white rice) are not good when trying to lose weight. That would be a lie.
The outcome of weight loss while on a diet is directly related to the quantity of food you consume rather than the quality.
Of course, like in any food group, certain foods contain more nutritional value than others. Take brown rice vs white rice for example. Brown rice is a whole grain; meaning it contains all parts of the grain — including the fibrous bran, the nutritious germ and the carb-rich endosperm. White rice, on the other hand, has had the bran and germ removed, which are the most nutritious parts of the grain.
If you are on a weight loss diet, and want to consume carbs, brown rice would be the better choice because of its nutritional value. It is important to consider the nutritional value of foods, and not simply the amount of calories the food contains.
However, like we said above, since losing weight directly depends on the quantity of food consumed, consuming tons of brown rice can still make you gain weight.
It is also important to note that carbohydrates that are high on the glycemic index usually pack a lot of calories per punch, and often contain little nutritional value.
All in all, eating carbs will not hinder your weight loss goals, as long as you are not overeating. To successfully lose weight, find a calorie deficit that works for you based on your age, height, gender and weight and stick to it. After a couple of consistent weeks, you will begin to see and feel results!