When it comes to the topic of weight control, people always talk about limiting the consumption of carbohydrates. But losing weight is also possible with a diet rich in carbohydrates.
You’ve probably heard many times that carbohydrates are the enemy – especially if you’re trying to lose weight. But it’s not that simple, says registered dietitian Anna Taylor. In an article by the Cleveland Clinic (USA), the expert explains that a diet rich in carbohydrates can even help you lose weight.
Control body weight
Carbohydrates can provide energy, protect against disease, and actually help control your body weight. It depends on the type of carbohydrates you choose. And there are two different types of it:
Simple Carbohydrates: Your body digests simple carbohydrates easily. And that causes your blood sugar to rise. Simple carbohydrates include products made from white sugar and added sugar, such as soda, baked goods, cereal, and candy.
Complex Carbohydrates: Your body digests complex carbohydrates more slowly. In this way, they provide your body with a continuous supply of sugar and they can help you feel fuller and energized for longer.
And if you eat the right mix of healthy carbohydrates during a high-carb diet, you can reap some benefits like weight loss and a reduction in inflammation.
Taylor explains the pros and cons of a high-carb diet.
What is a High Carbohydrate Diet?
Taylor says there is no official definition of a high-carb diet, but offers the following guidance:
“Generally in the United States, we recommend that about 45 to 65 percent of total calories come from carbohydrates,” she explains. “So a high-carbohydrate diet would be at the higher end of this range, or have more than two-thirds of your total calories from carbohydrates.”
And you may have heard that the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet could be considered high-carb diets.
“Many people who follow the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet may end up consuming more carbohydrates. And that’s because you’re eating healthy, fiber-rich plant foods that are primarily carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes,” she said.
Is it possible to lose weight on a high-carbohydrate diet?
The answer is not that simple, Taylor repeats. But what does the research say?
A 2015 study showed that a high-carbohydrate diet affected the body composition of young men, leading to a significant increase in total body weight and BMI (body mass index).
But a 2018 study of overweight people shows that a plant-based, high-carb, low-fat diet has positive effects on weight and body composition.
And a 2018 meta-analysis did not conclude that a diet high in carbohydrates increases the risk of obesity, according to Taylor.
“This is because not all carbohydrates are created equal. In other words, it’s not necessarily the amount of carbohydrates we eat that matters, but rather what type of food we choose.” She gives two examples:
Person A consumes a lot of carbohydrates through soda, by eating cereal for breakfast, granola bars or sweetened yogurt as a snack, and white rice for dinner. These types of high-carb products contain added sugar and hardly any fiber. Person A doesn’t feel full and isn’t getting the nutrients they need.
Person B focuses on a plant-based diet that is high in carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. This type of food is rich in fiber.
“Because these higher-fiber foods are more filling, Person B may lose some weight over time,” notes Taylor. “Although on paper these people are both following a high-carbohydrate diet, the application is completely different and you get different results. That’s the crux of the problem with carbohydrates.”
Benefits of a high-carbohydrate diet
While there are some benefits to eating a high-carb diet with as few processed foods as possible, remember it depends on the type of carbs you choose. Benefits may include:
- Reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Reducing the risk of various types of cancer.
- Improving insulin sensitivity.
- Reducing inflammation.
“High-fiber carbohydrates can also support a healthy digestive system,” says Taylor.
Healthy carbohydrate-rich foods
The key is to eat the right carbohydrates. According to Taylor, these are the types of healthy carbohydrates you should incorporate into your meals:
Whole grains: These include farro, quinoa, brown or wild rice, and whole-grain bread and pasta.
Legumes: Options include black beans, lima beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils.
Fruits and vegetables: Try to eat the colors of the rainbow. And yes, this includes starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and winter squash.
“Fiber is naturally only found in plant-based foods. The less processed these plant foods are, the more fiber they typically contain,” explains Taylor.
“Eating lots of foods that grow from the ground and haven’t spent too much time in a factory since then is the key to a high-carbohydrate diet with such health benefits.”
Disadvantages of a high-carbohydrate diet
If you don’t choose the right type of carbohydrates, a high-carb diet full of processed refined grains and simple sugars can wreak havoc on your diet.
“Such foods – even if they are high in carbohydrates – will not fill you up and you will constantly feel cravings for sugar. “And the reason is that every time you eat fast-acting carbohydrates, your insulin response promotes hunger and your blood sugar spikes,” Taylor points out.
“And you’re missing out on all the foods that protect you from disease while eating foods that can increase your risk of disease or worsen pre-existing conditions.”
Make a wise choice
Taylor understands that carbs get a bad rap, but she makes it clear that if you choose wisely, the carbs you eat—again, think whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—are an important part of your health and wellness goals could be.
“We want to focus on how we can build the foundation for your diet with essential foods,” she says.
“I think people are so busy counting their carbs or calories that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They don’t fill themselves up with foods that improve their health and make them feel good.” (ad)