We hear a lot that carbs is supposed to make us fat and that if you eat carbs, you will gain a lot of weight, but is this true? The short answer is that yes carbs can make you fat, but eating too much of anything will make you fat. This goes with protein, fats, and anything else that you consume. Carbs itself does not make you fat. Matter of fact a lot of people have lost weight on high carb low-fat diets.
What about those low carb or keto diets? Those type of diets work and at the end of the day it is another way of restricting calories. Getting your calories and energy from fats instead of carbs is a great way to eat less and feel more full throughout the day. Another thing is that a lot of carby or starchy foods make people’s digestive system feel uncomfortable which is why a lower carb diet is usually rather safe and can produce results. Even then, diets like Paleo won’t tell you to restrict carbs to nothing. Paleo will just promote you to eat healthier carbs that aren’t filled with toxics.
In this article, I’ll go over how carbs work and then we’ll share some thoughts given by the professionals and experts in this industry.
How does the carb digesting process work?
To understand if carbs make you fat, the first thing you need to understand is what happens to carbs when they are consumed.
After carbohydrates are eaten, they are broken down into smaller units of sugar (glucose, fructose, and galactose) in the stomach and small intestine. These small units are absorbed in the small intestine and then enter the bloodstream where they travel to the liver. Fructose and galactose are further converted to glucose in the liver. Glucose is the form of carbohydrate that is transported by the bloodstream to the various tissues and organs, including the brain, where it is used as energy throughout the body.
Now if you’re not actively using the glucose then it becomes stored in our liver as glycogen. This storage form is used by the body for energy when the body needs more glucose that is readily available in the bloodstream, for example after an intensive workout. This is why people reach for carbs for post workout meals.
The body does have limited storage capacity for glycogen, which is why if you aren’t actively moving and exercising, then you won’t be able to deplete your glycogen storage. This is where the excessive amount of carbs will be turned into stored fat.
FYI, the storage is roughly 2000 calories and keep in mind that the body uses energy even when you are sleeping or sitting still. Another thing to note is that carbohydrates will spare protein as an energy source in the body. This is an important factor for our exercise planning because when carbohydrate consumption is inadequate and protein is broken down, we lose our primary source of building blocks for muscle development.
This is why people like to have carbs pre and post workout in order to ensure that their protein is absorbed as much as possible for muscle gain, growth, and retention.
Our body does need carbs. Carb is an essential for the central nervous system. The brain primarily uses glucose as its energy source, and a lack of glucose can result in weakness, dizziness, and low blood sugar, or feeling weak in general.
So to conclude the process, carbs itself do not make you fat unless you consume an excessive amount of it.
The different types of carbohydrates
There are two main types of carbs, simple and complex carbs.
Simple carbs – All simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy, as they are very rapidly digested. Most people like to consider these as the bad carbs. A good example of simple carbs are cookies, baked goods, chips and stuff along the lines of that.
Complex carbs – may be referred to as dietary starch and are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. They are often rich in fiber, thus satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in vitamins and minerals. These are what people consider as the good carbs because they keep you full for longer and provide great nutrition and energy for your body.
Experts share their knowledge on whether carbs make you fat
Basically, the answer to whether or not carbs make you fat is, “it depends on a variety of factors”, like the types of carbohydrates you eat, how much and your activity level. Certain carbs, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been shown to help people lose weight. While excessive intake of other carbs, like sugary drinks and desserts, have been linked to increased obesity. And certain individuals, like athletes, actually need to eat more carbs for energy. – Natalie Rizzo RD
Carbs themselves don’t make you fat if you burn them off. I, and many athletes use carbs as the primary source of glycogen to fuel our muscles. I have carbs before a workout to give my muscles fuel and carbs afterward to recharge and restore what was used. That said, not all carbs are created equal and we would prefer complex carbs that do not cause a sugar spike and crash. Getting fat is to a large degree a question of math. If you take in 10 calories of carbs but only burn off 5 calories worth, then your body will store the other 5 as fat. By and large, the same thing will happen if you take in 10 calories of protein (although some will be incorporated as muscle and not burned) or 10 calories of fat and don’t burn it off. The key is to balance the intake with the expenditure. – Robert Herbst (Personal Trainer and Nutritionist)
Carbs, just like fat and protein, don’t make us fat when eaten in proper quantities. In fact our bodies, and especially our brain, prefer carbohydrates for energy. The modern diet, however, includes many processed carbs which don’t have a lot of fiber, so it can take larger amounts of, let’s say pasta, to fill you up. Try this: pull out a box of cereal and pour it into a bowl. Now get out a measuring cup and see how many servings you’ve poured. Many people easily eat two servings in a sitting. – Megan Casper RDN,MS @nourishedbites
Any food consumed in excess can cause the body to store fat. So yes, carbs can make you fat – but so can proteins and fats. Too often the industry looks for one cause for weight gain, when in fact it’s more complicated than just the food we eat. Stress, sleep deprivation, lack of movement, and excess toxins are other factors that can contribute to increased fat stores in the body. – Dawn MacLaughlin, Ph.D., CHC
People like to classify “carbs” as starchy vegetables and bread. They are so much more than that. Fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and even nuts all contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-containing foods are not only good for you with vitamins/minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and vitamin A, they also contain necessary fiber and they are absolutely essential to a healthy diet. So, carbs don’t make anyone fat. Foods that are highly processed, high in trans fat, and loaded with sugar will absolutely add some inches to the waistline. – Sarah Pflugradt, MS, RDN
How many carbs should I eat?
This should vary depending on your activity level. If you work in the office and commute using a car, then you do not need as many carbs as an athlete who is working hard on building their muscles. An effective low-carb, but non-ketogenic diet, can be accomplished with roughly 100 to 125 grams of carbs a day from unlimited, non-starchy vegetables and a few pieces of whole fruit. No rice or starch is necessary.
When you eliminate starches, you will notice that reaching 125+ carbs isn’t going to be nearly as easy. That is why I recommend that you fill up your list of foods with some fruits and healthy veggies.
On the other hand, if you are actively working out you will need a lot more carbs unless you’re consuming a good amount of fat for energy. When you exercise, your body undergoes the cyclical depletion and repletion of muscle glycogen stores. That can take a lot more than 150 grams of carbs.
I like to think of it as a car’s gas tank. When it’s low on gas, you need to refill it or it will die out.
In conclusion, carbs are not evil. Overeating and eating a ton of fast food is evil.
I do want to hear from you guys though, are you on a low carb diet? What’s your most favorite carbs?
We’re going to make this apart of our Mythbuster series where we try to get expert advice on breaking those old nutrition myths!
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