Do carbs make you gain weight?

Welcome back! Have you managed to prepare your lunch at home and bring it to work this week? If so, what kind of lunch did you make? Have you noticed you feel more satisfied having eating a home cooked meal rather than getting take out? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

In the last lesson we spoke about how our protein requirements are much lower than the fitness gurus on instagram or supplement industries would have you believe. Furthermore, eating a diet too high in protein has been linked to a host of health issues and diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

But as bad as protein is, there is no way it’s worse than carbs. I mean, carbs make you gain fat, right? At this point, it’s pretty well established that carbs make you fat, so we should take every opportunity to reduce or eliminate them from our diet altogether. But where do carbs come from? In fact, what is a carb anyway? They’re in bread, right? Is bread a carb?

Carbs is short for carbohydrates and, like protein, is one of the three energy providing macronutrients humans need in their diet for survival. Carbohydrates are chemicals found in plants which are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, hence, carbo for carbon, hydro for hydrogen - and ate which, a little more confusingly, mean oxygen.

Carbs come in a wide variety, from simple sugars, called monosaccharides, like fructose, glucose and galactose, all the way up to polysaccharides like starches and glycogen that contain long chains of monosaccharides. Depending on how complex a carbohydrate is, meaning how many monosaccharides are bound together, the digestive system will absorb them into the bloodstream at different rates.

It’s thought that regularly elevating blood glucose levels for years at a time can lead to a person developing insulin resistance, and eventually type 2 diabetes. Insulin is a hormone secreted whenever glucose is introduced into the bloodstream and allows your cells to use up the glucose as energy. If you become insulin resistant, your cells don’t respond as well to the message insulin is giving them.  

Dieticians use a tool called the glycemic index to give different foods a number between 1 and 100 based on how quickly it’s carbohydrate content is broken down and absorbed as sugar into the bloodstream. This sort of information is important for anyone dealing with diabetes, as knowing how different foods will affect their blood glucose levels can help to know which foods to each and when to eat them.

Table sugar, for instance, will spike your blood sugar quite rapidly as it is very easily absorbed into the bloodstream. As such, it has a relatively high glycemic index score of 65. Broccoli, even though it is made up of 70 percent carbohydrate, is much more slowly digested and, therefore, has a low score of 10 on the glycemic index.

However, many refined and processed foods have glycemic index scores well above simple table sugar. For instance, french fries have have a score of 75, pretzels have a score of 83, and a baguette has a score of 97! Would you have thought eating pure table sugar would have less of an effect on your blood sugar levels than a baguette?

I’m sure you’ve heard people say a diet high in carbohydrates, and especially sugar, will place you on the fast track for putting on weight and possibly developing type 2 diabetes. While high carbohydrate, high sugar diets can be a contributing factor to weight gain and the development of diabetes through insulin resistance, it may have more to do with the type of food rather than the amount of carbohydrate and sugar.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods can cause you to gain unwanted weight and put you at risk of developing certain health issues. The added weight gain is usually attributed to excess calories, as processed foods have low amounts of fiber to keep you feeling full and high amounts of salt and sugar to keep you coming back for more. Eating highly refined and processed foods continually throughout the day will keep your blood glucose levels elevated, potentially putting you at risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Highly processed foods will also introduce other elements into the body known to cause disease. High fructose corn syrup, nitrosamines, dietary carcinogens, cholesterol, sodium and other preservatives, artificial sweeteners, trans and saturated fats, and even elevated protein intake can all contribute to a person developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.

When a person consumes carbohydrates as they are found in whole food, blood sugar levels are easily maintained well within manageable limits. Even fruits, which have a high simple sugar content, generally score within the thirties and forties on the glycemic index. Digesting and absorbing the sugar in fruit is slowed down due to the of presence of fiber. Furthermore, while processed foods contain ingredients associated with disease, a whole food diet high in carbohydrate brings with it all the disease preventing nutrients and vitamins found within fruits and vegetables .

To review, not all carbohydrates are created equal and won’t make you gain weight in and of themselves. However, if those carbohydrates are coming from refined, over processed foods the likelihood of gaining weight and developing health issues will definitely go up.

For those still on the fence as to whether or not you should be concerned with carbohydrates, no matter where they come from, I’ll refer you to a recent study. In the study, researchers looked into the effects a plant based diet had on the prevention and possible treatment of type 2 diabetes. The conclusion of the study showed an irrefutable link between consuming a plant-based, carbohydrate rich diet and it’s ability for reducing insulin resistance and promoting a healthy body weight.

As always, thank you for joining in on today’s lesson. If you got something out of it or have any questions, please let me know in the comments. If you’re enjoying this fitness program and know of a friend or family member who could also benefit, please feel free to share the sign up link with them. And, as always, the secret to getting ahead is getting started. So go get started!

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