Carbohydrates are often villainized when it comes to weight loss or overall weight management. While eating too many carbs can be bad for you, eating too much of anything is bad either way. In fact, the right amount of carbs in your diet can actually be super effective in helping you lose weight. The key is maintaining the correct portion size for carbs.
But before we debate on whether carbohydrates are good or bad for you, we need to understand a couple of things. Our Fitness Expert, Spoorthi and Health Coach, Chandni Haldurai shed light on whether carbs are the villains when it comes to weight loss or not.
Total caloric intake and weight management
Carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram whereas fats contain 9 calories per gm. All that you eat is converted to energy and is counted as calories. The basics for weight loss management is to balance out the calories you consume via food with the calories you burn during the day and with exercise – calorie deficit.
If you want to lose weight, the calories you consume have to be lesser than the calories burnt and if you want to gain weight, the calories you consume have to be higher than that consumed.
Now regardless of which macronutrient it is, if you consume greater calories, you are bound to increase weight or not lose weight as desired. It could be carbs, fats or overall the food you consumed. This means that you could eliminate carbohydrates completely from your diet and still not be able to lose weight if you don’t strike the correct calorie deficit balance.
Striking a calorie deficit balance by understanding good and bad carbs
We often refer to some carbs as good carbs and some carbs as bad carbs – what do we really mean when we say that?
Carbohydrates are broadly classified into sugar, starch and fibre. Sugar is found in a lot of food items including but not limited to fruits, milk, grains and even chocolate and juices. Starch and fibre are mainly found in plant-based sources. Here’s a simple depiction of how carbs are broken down in our body.
Now, all food items have a specific Glycemic Index, assigned based on how slowly or how quickly a food item increases the blood glucose levels.
Foods low on the GI scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. They help you feel fuller over a longer period of time. Low-glycemic foods usually have a GI of 55 or less. Some examples of these are whole grain cereals, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils.
Foods high on the GI scale release glucose rapidly. They tend to induce hunger sooner making you want to constantly snack all throughout the day. High-glycemic foods usually have a GI of 70-100. Some examples of these are white rice, potato, bread and cake.
The lower the GI, the less it would affect your blood sugar levels and satiety. While Glycemic Index alone does not determine if a food item is healthy or will help you lose weight, understanding how GI affects/influences health, can be very useful.
When you consume an item with a high Glycemic Index, you end up consuming a lot more food subsequently upping your caloric intake. Also, such foods items are generally low in nutritional value.
Bottom line: Don’t cut your carbs
Glucose is the preferred source of energy for most of our body tissues; especially brain cells. There is no other stored fuel in the brain which is why your brain must get a continuous supply of glucose in the appropriate amount. If glucose metabolism is deranged, life-threatening conditions may occur. A minimum amount of glucose is always required for normal functioning.
Also, in some cases when glucose is not readily available, our body ends up using amino acids (protein molecules) for energy. This reduces the utilization of amino acids for muscle building and recovery processes leading to muscle wastage in severe conditions.
Thus, if you cut out carbohydrates completely, your body is deprived of one of the main sources of energy. Plus, your body ends up using proteins which subsequently result in unhealthy muscle loss. This muscle loss isn’t the same as weight loss.
Protip: Post-workout meals are generally full of proteins. However, adding a good proportion of carbs and proteins in your post-workout meal can aid better recovery – glycogen stores are replenished timely and the body’s ability to recover is maximised.
Cutting carbs completely to lose weight might seem like the natural way to go but there’s a lot one needs to consider before doing so. A balanced and sustainable diet is key to healthy weight loss that doesn’t just help you lose kilos but also boosts your natural health and strength. Before making any drastic restrictions in your diet, it’s best to consult with a dietician and get their professional advice on the matter.