Carbs are NOT the Enemy. Really, They’re Not!

Dr. Christopher McGowan
April 2, 2021

One of the most common misconceptions about weight loss is that cutting carbs offers the best chance for success. While watching your carbohydrate intake and choosing the right ones can support a healthy weight loss, carbohydrates are NOT the enemy. In fact, studies show that while cutting out carbs often results in short-term weight loss, after one to two years, the sustained weight loss is no different than that offered by a low-fat diet. At True You Weight Loss, we never recommend completely eliminating any food group—and tell patients to avoid drastic or overly restrictive diets because they simply aren’t sustainable for most people.

What are Carbohydrates?

An important component to health and nutrition, carbohydrates are a type of nutrient found in certain foods and beverages. Your body uses carbohydrates to make glucose, a form of sugar which is then converted to glycogen and used for energy. Your muscles, including your heart and your brain, depend on this energy to function properly. In fact, research has shown that aerobic endurance and enhanced brain activity are directly related to glycogen stores in your body.

Keep Some Carbs for Weight Loss Success

For patients hoping to lose weight and keep it off, the best strategy is to include a small amount of healthy carbohydrates with every meal. For most people, my recommendation is 110-120 grams of total carbs per day. You may need even more dependent on your nutrition prescription. Low-carb eating versus completely eliminating carbs is a much more sustainable option for a long-term, healthy lifestyle. By eliminating carbs entirely, most patients will end up backfilling with too much protein and fat, and are likely to miss out on key vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need. This could result in lower energy levels, weaker muscles, muscle cramps, fainting or passing out, headaches, constipation, and an increased risk for heart damage and cardiovascular disease.

Complex vs. Simple Carbohydrates

It’s helpful to understand the two different types of carbohydrates—complex and simple—when making your food choices. As a rule of thumb, at least half of your carbs should be complex carbs.

Complex carbohydrates are made up of longer strands of molecules. Therefore, it takes your body longer to break them down into glucose. With longer digestion comes longer-lasting energy, and your body needs this glucose energy to function. Complex carbs can also keep you feeling full for longer, and may help alleviate inflammation. Examples are:

  • whole grains
  • bran
  • starches (i.e. whole wheat bread, peas, corn, oats, brown or long-grain rice, cereal)
  • beans/legumes
  • nuts
  • fruits
  • vegetables

All of these complex carbs provide essential vitamins, minerals and/or antioxidants, which can help reduce the risk of many diseases. Many also contain fiber, which is essential to heart health, lowering total cholesterol, and the digestive process. We need fiber to keep our bowels moving! Foods that are particularly fibrous include:

  • quinoa
  • whole wheat pasta
  • apples
  • berries
  • bananas
  • broccoli
  • beans
  • leafy greens
  • carrots

Simple refined carbohydrates should mostly be avoided, such as soda, baked goods, cookies, breakfast cereal, white rice, white bread, and fruit juice. But it is critical to remember that not all simple carbohydrates are bad. Fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are simple natural carbohydrates that contain vitamins and minerals essential to our health (such as the lactose, vitamin D and calcium in milk, and the fructose in fruit).

Cut the Sugar & Eat a Rainbow

Far better than eliminating all carbohydrates would be to focus on limiting processed foods and added sugars. Sugar in general should only make up 10 percent of your total caloric intake per day, and it’s best to stick to naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit and milk. This will help eliminate many simple carbohydrates and ensure the foods you’re eating serve a purpose—which is to provide nutrients, keep you feeling satisfied, and aid in digestion. For maximum benefit, pair your carbohydrates with a protein or fat. For example, add a scoop of peanut butter to your whole grain toast. 

Lastly, by varying your diet and eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, you will be creating many more health benefits for yourself than if you were to restrict your diet and totally cut out carbs. Treating yourself once in a while to smaller portions of your favorite treats will also leave your body feeling more satisfied and empowered to stay on the low-carb weight-loss wagon.

Example of a Healthy Day’s Eating

Below are simple, healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner that will allow you to incorporate a healthy amount of beneficial carbohydrates into your diet while contributing to your weight loss goals.

One egg, half of a whole-grain English muffin, peach

Low-fat tuna on a Wasa® cracker with some grapes

Salmon, 1/2 cup of green beans, and 1/8 to 1/4 a cup of brown rice

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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