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What is the deal with carbs and weight loss

Question: What is the big deal about carbs and weight loss? My friends keep on telling me I must lose the carbs to lose weight, but I don’t know which foods contain carbs.

Answer: In order to perform optimally your body needs a variety of nutrients provided by three main food groups, namely carbohydrates (carbs), fats and protein. Carbohydrates can be obtained from many food sources and can be further broken up into three main categories: sugar, starch, and dietary fiber. Many health experts identified over-consumption of carbohydrates, and more specifically sugar, as the main culprit in the current obesity epidemic facing the developed world. But just before you swear never to touch carbs again – know that your body, and more specifically your brain, really needs carbohydrates to function optimally. You will still lose weight if you indulge in carbohydrate-rich foods in moderation, stick to natural food sources, and learn how to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Newcomers to the low carb diet are often surprised to find out that sugar is also a form of carbohydrates, and even more surprised to find out how many food sources actually contain sugar. Sugar is found in a range of natural foods, including milk (lactose) as well as fruits and vegetables (sucrose and fructose). Sugar in its processed form is used in abundance to manufacture candy, sodas and cakes. It is even used in savory treats and to cure meats. Your body does need sugar, but in small quantities. Food and drinks sweetened by refined sugar should be avoided as far as possible.

Starch is the most important form of carbohydrates and is contained in many staple foods worldwide, such as rice, wheat, corn and potatoes. Many fruit and vegetables contain starch too; for example banana, sweet potato, and yams. Other good sources of starch include legumes such as lentils, peas and beans. Of course all grains and grain products also contain starch, for example flour, bread, pasta, noodles and cereals.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods that can be soluble or insoluble. Foods rich in fiber assist you in losing weight because you feel fuller for longer, and end up eating less. Fiber-rich foods also help you manage your cravings by keeping your blood sugar levels more stable. Some of the many other benefits of fiber include improved regulation of your digestive system, reduced of cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, and even prevention of certain forms of cancer. Good sources for dietary fiber include fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes (lentils, beans and peas).

You will notice many low carb diet books or recipes refer to “net carbs” or “digestible carbs”. This simply refers to the carbohydrate content of the food that your body will actually digest. In other words, only the carbohydrates that will contribute to your daily calorie intake. The easiest way to calculate net carbs is to subtract the dietary fiber from the total carbohydrate content of the meal or snack.

Very low carb diets such as Atkins suggest you limit your carbs to 20g per day for the Induction Phase, gradually increasing your carb intake as you progress through the other three phases. Other low carb diets suggest up to 60g of carbs per day. Other more balanced diets suggest you get 40% of you daily calories from carbs, along with 30% from fat, and the last 30% from protein. Low fat diets, of course, will see you get at least 60% of your diet from carbs, with a much reduced fat and protein intake. The choice of diet is yours, and it really depends on your personal tastes and lifestyle.

To summarize. Carbs play a very important role in your diet to ensure sustained energy and health. While it is true that too much carbs can result in weight gain and inflammation, too little carbs will most certainly leave you tired, depressed and vulnerable to all sorts of diseases. Choose a healthy and nutritious weight loss plan that allows for sufficient intake of carbs from natural food sources. Avoid processed foods as far as possible since they most often contain too much sugar and too little nutrients, which is why many of these food items are often referred to as “dead carbs”.

For more information on the main nutrients read this article on the Perricone Weight loss Prescription. If you want to track your daily carb intake (in grams or ounces) along with your calorie intake, or you just want to keep an eye on the percentage of calories you get from carbs, use our free electronic food diary called myOBW. You can also use this food journal just as a data source to see how much carbs (and other nutrients) your food choices actually contain.