You’ve heard that eating carbohydrates for weight loss is effective. Carbs help you lose weight, carbs keep you energized, carbs fill you up so you eat less and are less likely to binge. But why do you want to follow a high-carb diet?
Ways to Eat Carbs and Still Lose Weight
You can still carb up and slim down! Here are a few tips on how.
Carbs are not the enemy! It may not seem like it—especially with the rise of popular low-carb diets, like keto—but eating carbs is an important macronutrient in one’s overall diet and can help you lose weight. The key is to focus on complex carbohydrates that will make you feel full, instead of simple, refined carbs that will leave you feeling hungrier and hungrier. That’s why we put together a list of how to eat carbs and still lose weight.
With these eight strategies in mind, you’ll not only be able to not only maintain those weight loss goals, but you’ll also put together a few delicious meals along the way. Enjoy pizza? Pasta? A slice of toast in the morning? You can have all of these tasty items on a regular basis. It’s all about what you pair those carbs with and the types of grains you choose to consume.
Throw on the toppings.
What’s the more diet-friendly pizza: plain cheese or supreme? The answer may surprise you. Turns out adding protein to your pizza can actually support your weight loss goals. That’s because rounding out a starchy meal with protein can reduce its Glycemic Index (GI), a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels rise in response to food with a measure of one to 100. Studies suggest the lower the score, the better for weight loss.
Complex carbohydrates like whole grains tend to score lower on the scale. But you can further lower a high-carb meal’s glycemic load—and feel fuller—by adding protein, which slows down digestion, keeping blood sugar steady. A simple cheese pizza, for example, has a GI of 80, while a fully loaded Supreme pie scores a 36. Adding fat to a meal has the same GI lowering effect, but it also adds far more calories; moreover, a study in The Journal of Nutrition found protein to be 3 times more effective at reducing glucose response than fat. Enjoy your favorite pizza and pasta dishes with lean protein toppings—and stay lean and mean yourself.
Berry good news: Researchers say berries may slow the digestion and absorption of starch. A study in The Journal of Nutrition found eating 150 grams of strawberries (about a cup) with a 50-gram slice of white bread reduced the insulin response 36% more than the berry-less bread eaters. A mixture of strawberries, bilberries, cranberries, and black currants was even more effective, lowering the glycemic profile of the white bread by 38%. Study authors attribute the results to polyphenols in the berries, and it’s good news for you because research suggests a diet containing moderate amounts of low GI carbohydrates is particularly good for weight loss. So, who wants berries?
Drink green tea with it.
Washing down a high-carb meal with a soothing cup of green tea may be a good diet strategy, according to Penn State scientists. Their study, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, found an antioxidant in green tea called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), when combined with carbohydrates, can help regulate hunger hormones and a healthy metabolism by lowering blood glucose. Mice fed EGCG and corn starch had a 50% greater reduction in blood sugar spikes compared to mice that were not fed the compound. The researchers say one and a half cups of green tea is enough to see the same benefits.
Add in some fat.
Is butter a carb? No, but we think Regina George would like this tip. Researchers say enjoying your carb-fest with a moderate amount of monounsaturated fat—like the kind you find in olive oil and avocados—can help increase satiety and reduce overall calorie intake. But not just any fat will do.
A study in the journal Nature compared the satiating effects of bread served with olive oil (a monounsaturated fat) and bread served with butter (a saturated fat). Restaurant patrons in the olive oil group ate 23% less bread than the butter group.
And another study published in Nutrition Journal found similar satiating effects from the heart-healthy fat; participants who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40% decreased desire to eat for hours afterward.
Eat it, don’t drink it.
You’ll slash carbohydrates from your diet by choosing a fresh apple over an apple muffin, but you won’t entirely erase the carb count. Believe it or not, all fruits and vegetables include some carbs. In fact, one apple has 34 grams of carbs—more than you’ll find in two slices of whole wheat bread! And because juicing removes the satiating fiber from whole fruits, a cup of fruit juice can do more harm than good.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who consumed one or more servings of fruit juice each day increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21%. And a second study in the journal Nature found liquid carbohydrates to be 17% less filling compared with solid carbohydrates. As a general rule: eat, don’t drink, your fruits.
DAILY CARB RECOMMENDATION FOR WEIGHT LOSS
The daily recommendations for carb intake are based on two primary criteria: total daily calorie intake and the intensity/volume of physical activity. Higher total daily calorie needs come with higher recommendations for total daily carb intake, while lower total daily calorie needs come with lower recommendations. Furthermore, as the body relies heavily on carbohydrate intake for moderate to higher intensity physical activity, carb recommendations will increase as total volume and intensity of activity increase.
Total daily calorie intake can be estimated using one of the estimating equations for total daily energy expenditure. The most common ones are the Harris and Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St Jeor. However, there are also online tools that can be used. Such as the NASM Online Calorie Calculator. This can help individuals determine how many calories they should consume daily.
After that, the number of grams per unit of body weight can be estimated based on current guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These recommendations are generalized as follows:
● Light Activity: 3-5 g/kg/day
● Moderate Activity (1 hour of moderate exercise): 5-7 g/kg/day
● High Activity (1-3 hours of intense, endurance exercise): 6-10 g/kg/day
● Very High (4-5 hours of intense, endurance exercise): 8-12 g/kg/day
HOW TO READ FOOD LABELS FOR CARBS
Food labels have been recently updated, giving a clearer insight into the true nutrition content of a given food, especially the carbohydrates of a food. The carbohydrate facts on a food label include total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, total sugars, and added sugars.
The way food labels work is that total carbohydrates represent the total carbohydrate count of the food. Each of the subcategories adds up to the total amount. For example, in the label below provided by the FDA, the total carbohydrate amount is 34 grams. However, of those 34 grams, 4 of them come from fiber, and 6 come from sugar (monosaccharides and disaccharides). Added sugars represent additional sugar that is added to the food during processing.
This means that there are roughly 24 grams of carbohydrates (34 g total – 4 g fiber – 6 g added sugar =24 g) that are complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides).
CALCULATING NET CARBS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Although many nutrition labels count all carbohydrates toward calorie intake, the truth is not all carbohydrates provide a meaningful number of calories as the human body does not digest and extract energy from all forms of carbohydrates. This is the idea behind the concept of net carbs.
In most situations, dietary fiber is considered a non-digestible carb and does not contribute to the total carbohydrate intake. As such, in many cases, fiber is subtracted from total carb intake. In the figure above, the 4 grams of fiber is often subtracted from the total carbs (34 grams) to yield a total of 30 grams of usable carbs.
The take-home message about low-carb eating
What do all of these results suggest? Well, perhaps it’s time to stop fussing so much over how many carbs, protein and fat we’re eating when it comes to achieving a healthy body composition.
Certainly, some form of dietary modification remains a key for most people to achieve a healthy weight. Few can maintain not-so-healthy habits and expect to have good results when stepping on the scale. But we have plenty of evidence to show that no one dietary strategy is consistently superior to others.
Evidence from decades of research demonstrates that adherence to diets where an energy deficit is achieved is a primary driver of weight-loss success, regardless of the macronutrient composition. This is a basic law of thermodynamics – weight loss occurs when the amount of calories consumed is less than the amount of calories expended.
And it’s very plausible that previously observed differences in weight loss and body fat change during diet interventions were primarily due to differences in overall calorie intake rather than any metabolic advantage of a certain macro distribution.
Weight loss may come faster on a low-carb diet, but as the weeks pass, the differences become less apparent. Yet when it comes to weight maintenance over the long-term, there is a chance that a certain macro distribution – such as lower-carb and higher protein – works best. Whether this is the case or not remains largely unproven and mostly speculation, though.
Instead of slamming one macronutrient or another, there needs to be a greater emphasis placed on total dietary patterns by guiding people towards choosing healthier foods (i.e. whole grains instead of refined grains, fish versus bacon and olive oil instead of butter) in amounts that keep calorie intake in line with what is required to achieve better health.
There’s more than one way to eat for your desired weight, since there is no “one‐size‐fits‐all” diet. Different diets work for different people, based on preferences and ease of adherence. Some people do better on low-carb, high-fat keto diets while others thrive on plant-based higher-carb diets; that’s just the reality. Remember, it’s essential that any diet you follow doesn’t leave you with a feeling of dread every time you open the fridge.