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Do carbohydrates really make you fat?
Do carbohydrates really make you fat?

The life hacker understands why carbohydrates are considered the enemy of losing weight and whether they should be afraid.

Do carbohydrates really make you fat?
Do carbohydrates really make you fat?

Who Said Carbohydrates Are To Blame For Being Overweight?

Carbohydrates have been blamed for weight gain since the 19th century, after the publication of a brochure by Bunting, a man who lost 30 kg in a month by giving up refined carbs.

In the 20th century, cardiologist Robert Atkins, the creator of the ketogenic diet, pounced on carbohydrates. Other well-known diets advise to limit carbohydrates: paleo, south beach diet, Whole30.

Gary Taubes' book Why We Get Fat states that Western society gets fat because food is mostly carbohydrates. And this hypothesis makes sense.

Why carbohydrates?

Fans of low-carb diets associate weight gain with the action of the hormone insulin. When you eat carbohydrates, the body converts them into glucose and carries them through the bloodstream to nourish the cells. When blood glucose rises above 100 mg / dL, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin. Its task is to remove excess glucose from the blood. To do this, it stimulates the insulin receptors of liver cells, muscle and fat, they pass glucose and store it in the form of glycogen (muscle, liver) or fat (fat cells).

If a person eats a lot of carbohydrates, insulin often has to act on insulin receptors in order to utilize glucose.

From this, they lose sensitivity, the cells stop opening and take less glucose. The body releases more insulin to reach cells and still remove glucose from the blood. The hormone blocks the breakdown of fat stores, stimulates the synthesis of fats in the liver, and after they are released into the bloodstream in the form of triglycerides, converts them into fatty acids, which are absorbed by fat cells. In other words, excess insulin makes you fatter.

In addition, consuming fast carbs - those that are processed quickly and dramatically increase blood sugar levels - leads to constant hunger. When you consume these carbohydrates, your sugar level rises sharply, your body releases a lot of insulin, it quickly builds up glucose, after which your blood sugar drops sharply, and you are wildly hungry again, although very little time has passed. It turns out to be a vicious circle.

Chocolate → jump in insulin → deposition of glucose into fat → sharp drop in blood sugar → wild hunger → chocolate. The circle is complete.

So carbohydrates are to blame for weight gain?

Before we blame carbohydrates for the obesity epidemic, let's take a look at the research findings.

A 2016 study found that as long as you remain in a calorie deficit, it doesn't matter how many carbs you eat. For the first month, participants ate a lot of carbohydrates, including fast foods like granola bars, pretzels, and white bread. At the same time, they maintained a calorie deficit and lost 0.5 kg. The next month, they ate low carbs and high fat, within the same calorie range, and shed 0.5 kg again.

Two months is a short time, but there is also a longer-term study that is a year long. And it also showed that low-carb and low-fat diets are equally good for weight loss.

A review of 107 scientific papers also confirmed that people lose weight due to reduced calories, and the proportion of carbohydrates is not important.

Sometimes people lose weight faster on a low-carb diet, but that doesn't matter in the long run.

Why do people lose weight faster on low-carb diets?

Scientists have suggested that fast weight loss on a low-carb diet is associated with water loss and a leaner diet.

Water loss occurs due to a decrease in muscle glycogen stores. Each gram of glycogen binds 3 g of water. By switching to a low-carb diet, you reduce the amount of water in your body, so you feel lighter almost immediately.

Reducing the diet is also of great importance. The greater the choice of food, the more a person will eat. If you are not allowed to eat carbs, you avoid many snacking opportunities when you are not feeling hungry: a slice of cake for a party at the office, chips before dinner, sweets with tea in the middle of the day. As a result, your calorie intake decreases and you lose weight.

But what about the feeling of hunger due to surges in blood sugar?

As we said above, hunger actually comes faster after spikes in blood sugar. But if we're talking about weight gain, it's not the carbohydrates themselves that are to blame, but their sources. Three parameters matter:

  1. The glycemic index (GI) of the product. This is the rate at which blood sugar will rise after a meal. Sweets, white bread, white rice, semolina, couscous, baked goods, potatoes have a high GI and cause a spike in sugar. Other vegetables, fruits, berries, legumes, cereals and greens, due to their high fiber content, are not absorbed so quickly and do not cause sudden surges in sugar.
  2. A combination of macronutrients. We rarely eat only carbs; many high-carb snacks are high in fat. For example, 100 g of chocolate contains 56 g of carbohydrates and 35 g of fat. In 1 g of carbohydrates 4, 1 kcal, and in 1 g of fat - 9 kcal. It turns out that chocolate contains only 229.5 kcal from carbohydrates and 315 kcal from fat. Ditto for cakes, fries, chips, and other quick snacks. If you consume carbohydrates in combination with protein, the calories will be much less for the same weight, and the satiety will last longer.
  3. Serving size. When comparing the volume of foods of the same calorie content, fatty foods are usually less carbohydrate. For example, 200 g of ground beef contains 550 kcal from fat and protein. To consume the same amount of calories from carbs, you can eat six apples, 625 grams of oatmeal, or 2 kg of boiled broccoli. And if you add protein, you can eat 250 g of boiled chicken breast and 200 g of boiled rice. This amount of food will fill your stomach, keep you full for a long time and eliminate snacks.

Studies show that hunger and food satisfaction are the same on low-carb and low-fat diets.

With the right food choices, carbohydrates won't make you dream of eating every half hour.

So it doesn't matter how much fat and carbohydrates I eat for weight loss?

For weight loss, the total calorie content of the diet is important. If you consume fewer calories than you spend, then you are losing weight; if the same, you keep weight; eat more than you can spend - gain.

There is no magic diet that can help you lose weight when you have a calorie surplus, regardless of your macronutrient ratio.

Just spend more than you consume, and the weight will start to go away.

Keeping a calorie deficit, you can lose weight even on fast food and sweets, but it's scary to think about what will happen to your health.

And for health there is a difference, how much fat and carbohydrates in the diet?

There are no uniform recommendations, it all depends on your characteristics and goals. Let's analyze several situations.

When to control carbohydrates and reduce their amount:

  1. If you have impaired glucose tolerance (prediabetes) or type 2 diabetes. Low-carb diets help stabilize blood glucose levels and slightly increase insulin receptor sensitivity.
  2. If you have problems with the heart and blood vessels. Carbohydrates from starchy and sugary foods are less cardiovascular than saturated fat. It turns out that even butter and lard are better for the heart than sweets and potatoes.
  3. If you often snack on snacks, cookies, sweets. By limiting your food choices, you can eliminate frequent snacks that cause you to exceed your calorie intake.

When not to cut back on carbs:

  1. If you go in for sports, hard physical labor. A low-carb diet will keep you from doing your best in your workout: you will feel weak. Don't torture your body - get a good carbohydrate charge two hours before your workout.
  2. If you are constantly hungry on a low-carb diet. You won't last that long, add healthy carbs from vegetables, fruits, whole grains.

And remember: by giving up sugar and sweets, you will not lose anything. Carbohydrates can be obtained from other foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber in addition to calories.

Forget about sugar and carbohydrates will become your best friends: they will provide vigor and energy, help you to do your best in training and improve your figure.