This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
Using low carb diets for weight loss is very popular right now. Are they just another kind of fad diets or is there a real reason behind the popularity?
Carbohyrates or carbs in short is one of the three macronutrient categories.
Is there a problem with carbs for weight loss?
Low carb diets make it sound like carbohydrates are the end of your weight loss journey. It’s good to know what the supposed problem is with carbs to better understand the merit of low carb diets for weight loss
First of all, you need to know that not all foods with carbohydrates do the same thing to your body.
Simple carbohydrates vs complex carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates vs complex carbohydrates is not a “binary” battle, foods are not one or the other. It’s a spectrum on which carbohydrates can either be more to the simple side or more to the complex side.
Carbohydrates more on the simple side are easily digestable. Your body doesn’t have to do any effort to convert them into energy. These kinds of carbohydrates also usually contain a lot of calories in a small amount of volume. The best example of a very simple carbohydrate is pure refined sugar.
Complex carbohydrates are the opposite. They are harder to convert into energy due to the increased amount of fiber. An example of a more complex kind of carbohydrates are oats.
Simple carbohydrates make losing weight harder
A big problem with simple carbohydrates is that they don’t fill you up as much compared to the amount of calories you consume. One reason for this is that they usually don’t contain a lot of fiber. This makes losing weight a lot harder.
First of all, fiber is good for you. For example it helps feed your microbiome, the microbes in your intestines that help you convert food into usable nutrients. If you consume simple carbohydrates instead of complex carbohydrates you will probably miss out on a lot of fiber.
Fiber is also great because it fills you up without increasing the amount of calories you absorb from your diet.
So when you eat simple carbohydrates, you will consume a lot of calories without actually feeling fuller. That’s why you can eat a bowl of cereal and be hungry 30 minutes later. Hunger while trying to lose weight is a big reason people fail to stick to their weight loss journey..
Different hormonal reactions
Energy from simple carbohdyrates gets absorbed a lot faster. This causes a different hormonal reaction compared to consuming more complex carbohydrates.
Your body absorbs the energy from the food you eat. In the case of simple carbohydrates a lot in a very short time. In the case of complex carbohydrates less in a longer amount of time. The energy here is sugar in your blood.
Now blood sugar in itself is not a bad thing. Your body can use it to function. The problem is that too much sugar in your blood at once is dangerous for you even to the point of dying.
How your body deals with blood sugar
Luckily, your body has a process that enables your body to maintain the right blood sugar. When it gets too high your body releases a hormone called “insulin”. Insulin will help convert blood sugar in other substances. The more excess sugar, the more insulin you need.
It’s good that the human body has this system. If not there would be a big problem.
The thing with insulin is that it is a fat-storing hormone. So when you release it it becomes a lot harder to burn energy. This is not what you want when trying to lose weight which is basically burning more energy than you absorb.
That is one of the main reasons simple carbohydrates are so bad. They spike your blood sugar sky high, this in turn spikes insulin and insulin reduces the amount of calories you burn.
Hormone reactions are one of the things you need to consider when choosing a weight loss diet. Simple carbohydrates score pretty bad in this area.
Do you need to do a low carb diet to lose weight?
The main point when trying to lose weight is avoiding simple carbohydrates like sugar.
It is possible to lose weight with it but it will be a lot harder. It messes up your hormone, leaves you hungry and damages your body.
With a low carb diet you can keep your insulin low. This help you with staying in fat burning mode.
The thing that makes low carb diets effective to lose weight is that you are not allowed to have any carbohydrates in the process.
The only food that you are allowed to eat is foods to fill you up and don’t spike your insulin.
One potential danger of low carb diets emerges when you even start cutting out food that provides you with important micronutrients. Getting your essential micronutrients is most likely more important than not eating carbohydrates.
How many carbs for a low carb diet?
So how many carbohydrates should you eat on a low carb diet?
The amount of carbohydrates you can eat on low carb diets is not an exact number. It’s usally calculated as a percentage of your total calories. How many calories you consume depends on things like age, gender, weight,.. So one person might want to eat 50 grams of carbohydrates a day while someone else might want to consume 70 grams.
There is no “one low carb diet %” you need to stick to. However one example is the ketogenic diet. On this diet you usually eat 5% or less of your calories in the form of carbohydrates.
Low Carb Diets For Weight Loss in short
If you replace all the simple carbohydrates in your diet with complex carbohydrates, you will already see a lot of results in terms of hunger and consuming less calories.
If you want to go a step further you can choose to remove the complex carbohydrates too. Low carb diets for weight loss can be very effective but they are not absolutely needed to be able to lose weight.
One of the most important things about your food plan is whether or not you can stick to it and get enough nutrients.