I recently had a conversation with someone who felt very strongly that “carbs aren’t good if you’re trying to lose weight.”
I’ve even once had someone tell me that sweet potatoes are bad for you because “they have so much sugar and carbs!”
My immediate thought is: Sweet potatoes ARE a carb, and there are only about 26 grams of carbs in one medium sized sweet potato, 5 grams of which are natural sugars and 4 grams of which are healthy fiber.
The more I talk to people about nutrition, the more I come to realize that a lot of people don’t have the first idea about any of it.
Anyways, the former remark led me to respond with personal evidence to the contrary. While I understand that everyone is different, and everyone’s body responds differently to different foods and macronutrients, carbs are absolutely NOT the enemy. Hold on. Let me explain.
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients, or macros. Macros are the energy we consume that come from our food: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates come in different forms – the basics include simple carbs, complex carbs, and fiber.
Simple Carbs aka Sugar
Simple carbs are sugars that include fructose (sugars from fruits), lactose (sugars from dairy), and glucose. These simple carbs get absorbed and transferred to glucose in our bodies very quickly, i.e. we get quick bursts of energy from them but may feel sluggish or even more hungry pretty quickly. For this reason, these simple carbs are best consumed prior to working out or being active.
Complex Carbs aka Starches
Complex carbs include starches such as potatoes, corn, oatmeal and other grains, pastas, rice, bread, beans, and even vegetables such as peas, carrots, parsnips, and squash. Complex carbs essentially get broken down more slowly, thus keeping you more satiated for longer periods of time.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in the cellulose of plant-based foods such as grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. It cannot be broken down for energy use in the body and includes both soluble and insoluble fibers. This is why when you see “Net Carbs”, fiber is subtracted, as well as zero calorie sweeteners like erythritol. These “carbs” don’t get processed as calories or energy. This is also why fruits and veggies are so nourishing and filling, you consume wholesome and dense foods but the impact on your blood sugar and calorie intake is minimal.
Now that we got the basics out of the way, it is important to note that there are healthy and not-so-healthy versions of complex carbs and simple carbs. Healthier alternative simple carbs include fresh-squeezed juices, raw honey, pure maple syrup, coconut sugars…. Less healthy alternatives include table sugar, concentrated fruit juices with added sugars, sodas, Aunt Jemima syrups…
Carbohydrates occur naturally in many plants and these foods also provide a variety of nutrients that contribute to your overall health. These are considered high-quality carbs and include those from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Low-quality carbs, on the other hand, are often found in processed foods. These often include added sugar, fat, sodium, and preservatives to improve taste or shelf life. Though they may be artificially fortified with vitamins and minerals, these foods often lack the nutrients available in whole foods. Foods like white bread, sweetened beverages and cereals, baked goods, and processed potato products fall into this category. – Very Well Fit
The reason people have been influenced to believe that carbs are the enemy is because they carry a greater effect on our blood sugar and our blood sugar effects our weight management. The other reason is that the common person doesn’t always understand what carbs are… and may associate carbs with candy or white bread and packaged chips. Those are the real culprits for weight gain and health problems. Consuming high quality carbs will increase your health and help with weight loss and management. Carbs are brain power and they fuel your body. To cut them out entirely is foolish, unless you have a health issue that requires you to do so such as diabetes and PCOS, etc.
Weight loss is a formula and it essentially means the calories in are less than the calories out. (Note: calories out doesn’t just mean the calories you burn during your workouts. Your body naturally burns calories even if you aren’t doing anything but laying in your bed. This is best understood by calculating your Basal metabolic rate or BMR. Your body will naturally expend these calories just so that you can live and function every day.) So to think you need to burn 2,000 calories in your workout alone because you consumed 1,500 calories and want a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day is absolutely absurd.
The best and most balanced method requires a combination of eating in a moderate caloric deficit and exercising. The results will come over time. Rather than cutting your carbs and potentially adversely affecting your progress long-term, it makes the most sense to cut percentages of all your macros healthily and in a more balanced way… and working out and lifting weights of course (or whatever you fancy, really! Just get moving!) Focus on consuming high quality carbs and whole foods, but don’t deprive yourself if you are craving a piece of chocolate. It’s also important to note that shocking your metabolism by having a treat every once in a while (i.e. going out to dinner and ordering whatever entree you want and having a portion of dessert) does your body good! It will do it even better if you do this on a leg day 😉
I have seen way too many situations where people consume too little calories for their body weight and it does the opposite of help them lose weight. Weird, huh? That’s because your body goes into a version of “starvation mode” for lack of better words. Your body will store what you do eat as fat because it doesn’t know when it will get the right nutrients again. This is why people who eat very low carb and very low calorie can suffer for years ahead when trying to lose weight. Slow and steady wins the race. Drastic and immediate results are not worth it. Just eat BETTER, not LESS.
For the last 4 weeks I have not been tracking macros (no thank you, never again) but I have been eating lots of whole foods, more veggies and being more mindful of my plate and my portions. I have easily been consuming between 170-180g of carbs a day (I eat the same things basically so it is easy to estimate this). After 4 weeks I lost 1.5 pounds! Eating THAT many carbs (or so some would think). The truth of the matter is – you will lose weight and reshape your body in the best way if you go for the balanced, whole foods approach with an 80/20 mindset on giving into cravings (TO A DEGREE!! NOT BINGING A WHOLE PACKAGE OF OREOS! Ok that piece of advice was for me…) The progress may be slower than you would like but it will LAST you forever because it becomes a lifestyle, rather than a fad diet.
Side note: I have recently been diagnosed with PCOS. My doctor told me I should be consuming less than 100g of carbs a day to help with symptoms. I do feel that is drastically low, especially for someone who lifts weights 5x a week. After my first four weeks of eating a normal amount of carbs (just healthier, whole food and high quality options), I plan to now focus on consuming 100-115g of high quality carbs on upper body and rest days… and upwards of 150g of carbs on leg days. (Estimates because I am not tracking or obsessing). I will see how my body reacts 🙂
That part isn’t important, I just feel like being transparent with my readers and to show that even with PCOS, which does make it harder to lose weight, I was able to lose 1.5 lbs consuming lots of healthy carbs 🙂
Example of Low Carb Day
- Breakfast: (KILLER breakfast sandwich) 1 Killer Dave’s english muffin, 2 whole eggs, 1 slice of Applegate black forest ham, 1 slice of cheese
- Lunch: (Asian stir-fry bowl) 4-5oz chicken marinated with coconut aminos and garlic; 1/4 cup of rice; stir fried veggies in coconut aminos such as bok choy, onions, mushrooms, sprouts
- Snack: Sumo orange; nuts or almost butter; protein shake
- Dinner: Protein of some sort (steak, chicken, burger patty, ground turkey, fish, etc); bowl of tomato, cucumber, mozzarella salad in light olive oil, salt & oregano
- I also add True Lemon to my water 3-4x a day and there are 3g of carbs per packet so I include this in my count!
Example of High Carb Day
- Breakfast: Same as low carb day plus oatmeal with berries & 1 tbsp of almond butter
- Lunch: Same as low carb day but with 1/2 cup of rice
- Snack: Same as low carb day but might also have another fruit such as a banana
- Dinner: Same as low carb day plus a starch veggie like sweet potatoes or squash
- Night-cap: Dependent on my sweet tooth – a little Halo Top ice cream, or a healthy hot cocoa, or a serving of chocolate
I really hope this helps and that you feel like you understand carbs a bit better… and most importantly, why they are our FRIENDS… not the enemies! If eating low-carb and keto works with you and your body, and you love it… power to you and keep on keeping on! This post isn’t meant to tell you that you’re way of eating is wrong… it’s to educate people who don’t know better that carbs are not the enemy!