This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
Carbohydrates get often demonized when talking about weight loss. Are they really that bad or is it still possible to lose weight with carbs?
The carb category is one of the three macronutrients humans consume, fats and protein being the other two. The reason they are called macronutrients is that they are consumed in relatively big amounts compared to other “micronutrients”.
The human body is able to convert these macronutrients into energy it needs to function. However, carbohydrates often get a bad name. Why is that?
Why do carbs get a bad name?
The first thing you need to know is that even within these macronutrient groups there are big differences. You have both bad and good fats. Both bad and good carbohydrates. The same with protein.
There is an important difference in terms of weight loss between them. The worst of the carbohydrates categories, sugar, is a lot easier to overeat compared to bad fats in terms of calories.
Let’s take a look at an example, sodas. One glass contains around 80 calories (1). You can consume a lot in one sitting. Your body just wants more and more. Sugar even has addictive effects.
If you would try to consume the same amount of calories in foods high in fat, it would be a lot harder.
Carbohydrates also raise insulin. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone. The higher the amount of carbohydrates your body consumes in a time period, the higher your body needs to raise insulin. This way it avoids too much sugar in your blood, a dangerous thing.
The problem is that the more often and the higher you raise your insulin, the less sensitive your body becomes to it. The consequence is that your body needs to produce even more.
Insulin puts your body into energy-storing mode. Not very helpful when you’re trying to lose weight. Losing weight is basically using excess energy stored as body fat.
Are all carbs bad for weight loss?
As mentioned not all carbs are the same.
There is a big difference in the carbohydrate spectrum. The effects of eating healthy carbohydrates are nowhere near the effects of drinking soda or foods high in sugar.
Just the calorie difference alone is extremely big.
Avoiding bad carbohydrates will already help you a lot. You probably don’t necessarily need to cut out good carbohydrates too to lose weight.
Which carbs are good for weight loss?
So what is the difference between “good” and “bad” carbohydrates?
You need to know that this isn’t really a thing of a difference in two groups. It’s more a spectrum from best to worst.
The way that is measured is mainly by looking at the complexity of the chemical chain of sugar molecules.
The longer the chain, the slower your body will convert it into energy. If you’re trying to lose weight you want to choose more complex carbs over simple ones.
List of good carbs for weight loss
Here is a list of examples of good carbs for weight loss:
- Legumes (for example beans)
- Whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice,…)
- Whole fruits
- Low-fat dairy (for example Greek yogurt)
Something you might notice is that these foods also contain fiber. Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate that doesn’t get absorbed as calories. It does feed your microbiome, the collection of microbes in your intestines that helps you convert food into usable nutrients.
This is a great thing. The health of your microbiome correlates with your health and your weight.
They also contain essential vitamins and minerals. Again great for your health and weight.
List of bad carbs for weight loss
Sugar isn’t the only carbohydrate you want to avoid when trying to lose weight. Here are a few others:
- Foods high in sugar (cookies, soda)
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juices
- Most pastas
- White bread
- Most breakfast cereals
You don’t need to say bye to these foods forever. Just keep in mind that the less you eat them the more healthier you will be.
Can you lose weight just by cutting out carbs?
Depending on your current diet, you will see a lot of progress by just cutting out carbohydrates.
Do keep in mind that too much of a calorie deficit isn’t good either. Try to replace the bad carbohydrates with healthy calories like good fats and good carbohydrates.
How many carbs per day to lose weight?
The amount of carbs you need to eat each day to lose weight depends from person to person. How much you exercise, how much you weigh, how much of a calorie deficit you want,…
Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories. Figure out how many calories you need per day for weight loss. Then figure out how many carbohydrates fit in there together with the rest of your diet.