In the world of weight loss and metabolic health, carbohydrates often get a bad reputation. People tend to condemn carbs because they assume that eating carbs will dangerously increase blood sugar levels. Others see the potential of overconsuming calories when eating carbs. While these are valid concerns in some circumstances, it’s a misconception that you need to cut down or completely eliminate carbs to manage your weight and maintain a healthy metabolism.
What is the role of carbohydrates in weight loss?
Carbohydrates sometimes get the blame for weight gain because they’re easy to overconsume, especially when eating refined, simple carbs like those found in white bread and pastries. Simple carbs — like those with high glycemic index or glycemic load — can also spike your glucose levels and trigger sugar cravings, both of which can lead to a slippery slope of dysregulated metabolic health. Metabolic issues like insulin resistance and weight gain commonly go hand-in-hand.
Cutting carbs or following low-carb diets, such as the ketogenic diet, can lead to weight loss — but they're not suitable or sustainable for everyone . While some people may experience short-term weight loss on a low-carb diet, not everyone experiences consistent results in the long-term. Many factors, like your genetics, lifestyle, environment, and more, can play a role in the results you see.
Getting rid of carbs completely can also be difficult, as it requires significant changes in your eating habits and lifestyle. For some people, this may trigger a cycle of restricting foods and binge eating, which can have serious consequences for your metabolic health. Harsh dietary restrictions, like eliminating an entire food group from your diet, can lead to eating behaviors that undermine weight loss efforts and harm your health in the long term .
Instead of cutting out carbs, it’s important to focus on the types of carbs you eat. This is because not all carbs are created equal.
“Healthy carbs,” known as complex carbohydrates, can actually support weight loss efforts. Complex, unrefined carbs are high in fiber and commonly found in whole foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Consuming enough fiber is key to feelings of satiety (fullness) as well as promoting and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome . Higher intake of dietary fiber has been shown to be associated with lower body weight and body fat, as well as a lower risk of several metabolic diseases and cancers .
A crucial way that complex carbs improve health is by stabilizing blood sugar, as they can help to prevent extreme spikes and drops in blood glucose levels. This is important because drops in blood sugar levels can trigger cravings, especially for high-calorie foods, which often leads to overeating .
The takeaway? Instead of focusing on eliminating carbs, it’s best to plan what kinds of carbohydrates you can add to create a healthy and sustainable diet plan that promotes stable blood sugar and weight management.
How many carbs should you eat a day to lose weight?
The ideal amount of carbs in your diet for weight loss differs from person to person and is influenced by factors like age, sex, physical activity level, and metabolic health — as well as personal preferences for foods .
Counting carbs or calories may not be a suitable plan for everyone, due to differing metabolic responses and the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Studies have shown little to no significant difference in weight loss when comparing a healthy low-fat diet versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet .
Focusing less on the quantity of carbs — and instead looking at the quality of carbs — is a great place to start for balanced glucose levels and long-term weight loss. Additionally, it’s important to take the time to see how different kinds of carbohydrates make you feel. Notice what happens to your body and your mood when you eat whole grains like farro and fibrous vegetables like carrots or broccoli, and compare that to how you feel after eating refined carbs like those in desserts or white bread.
As you listen to your body and take note of how you feel after eating, pay attention to what’s happening to your glucose levels when you feel a certain way. Your body is your best source of truth, and understanding how specific carbohydrates affect your blood sugar, mood, and energy levels can help you focus on the foods that support balanced glucose and metabolic health.
Takeaways: what are practical ways to eat carbs and still lose weight?
While losing weight can seem like a daunting task, there are straightforward strategies for eating carbs and sustainably losing weight.
- Focus on eating fiber-rich carbs, which increase feelings of fullness. Eating carbs from whole food sources like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is key to satiety and balanced glucose levels, as these are all sources of fiber.
- Consume carbohydrates earlier in the day, when insulin sensitivity is higher . Eating carbs at night can disrupt your sleep (which promotes insulin resistance) and trigger larger glucose spikes.
- Eat carbs before you exercise, especially high-intensity workouts, to provide your muscles with quick energy.
- Meal timing can help with weight loss, especially when experiencing a plateau. Practicing some form of intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating has been shown to improve heart health, metabolic health, and weight loss efforts.
- Pair carbohydrates with proteins and fats to slow digestion, balance your blood sugar levels, and increase satiety.
- Use a CGM to understand how eating certain types of carbs — and when you eat them — affect your blood glucose levels.