Walk into any conversation about dieting or nutrition,
and you're bound to find two camps: Pro-Carb and Anti-Carb.
The rise of the ketogenic diet has only intensified this debate, but dieticians and nutritionists have been studying carbs carefully for years.
Anecdotally, reducing or eliminating carbs from someone's diet seems to promote weight loss and help people reach their goals quickly. You can ask around your local gym or just do a quick search on social media to see for yourself.
But at FitTrack, we don't advocate for any one-size-fits-all solutions for weight loss. That's why we created the Dara smart BMI scale to help people discover the best solutions for their unique lifestyle, goals, and capabilities.
So we're here to tell you everything you need to know about carbs, whether you should cut or reduce them from your diet, and how to go about it if you do.
What are carbs?
First and foremost, it's important to understand exactly what carbohydrates (carbs) are. One of the three macronutrients—the other two being fat and protein—carbs are an essential nutrient that the human body relies on for energy. All over the world, almost every culture includes carbohydrates in their diet. The North American diet in particular features carbohydrates prominently.
Here are some of the most common carbs found in kitchens across the world:
- Grains like bread, rice, cereal, etc.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, etc.
- Legumes like beans and peas.
- Sugary sweets like soda and candy.
Other carbohydrate-culprits include fresh fruits and some other vegetables, but many of these either have such a high fiber content that their "net carb" total is close to zero or otherwise are packed with so many healthy vitamins and minerals that they outweigh their carbohydrate content.
Carbohydrates are broken down inside your body to produce glucose, which your body uses as its primary source of energy (unless you're on the ketogenic diet, more on that later).
Are there different kinds of carbs?
Yes! There are two different kinds of carbs you need to know about before you make any changes to your diet. Whole, unprocessed carbs are the best option as they tend to retain some of the important fiber that processed carbs are stripped away of. Fiber is associated with positive heart health, along with a reduced risk of a laundry list of chronic and later-life illnesses. That's because fiber slows down the process your body uses to turn carbohydrates into glucose, and helps stabilize blood-sugar levels. Fiber is also good for your digestive health.
Unprocessed carbs are easy to spot: fresh vegetables, potatoes, grains, and legumes.
Refined (processed) carbs are easy to spot, too: white pasta, bread, and rice; anything with added sugar; and anything else that has to go through many different steps of preparation before landing on your plate, like pastries and desserts.
But the method used to prepare carbs counts just as much. A baked potato might make the list of healthy carbs, but those greasy french fries don't.
"Should I cut carbs from my diet?"
Now that we know the ins and outs of carbohydrates, we can start to decide if we want to reduce or eliminate them from our diet.
While everybody has different reactions to changes in their diet, we can confidently say that eliminating processed, refined carbs from your diet is a smart idea. To put it simply, there's no health benefit to consuming them, so why bother?
That said, you might be the type of individual who likes to use a cheat day or a cheat meal to stay motivated while you work towards your health and wellness goals. So if you need that plate of sushi at the end of the week to congratulate yourself on a job well done, then go for it. But try to be mindful of how much the preparation of your food is affecting its nutritional content.
Whole and unprocessed carbs, on the other hand, are associated with positive health and reduced risks of illness. Yet eliminating them or reducing them has also been linked to weight loss.
There are two reasons.
#1 Reducing carbs can help you optimize your macronutrient intake
Remember macronutrients? Your body relies on carbohydrates, fat, and protein in disparate measures to maintain energy and stay healthy. All three are essential for most individuals, but the ratio they're consumed in changes from person to person. For example, an Olympic weightlifter needs to consume more protein to fuel muscle growth while they train. A cyclist needs to consume more carbohydrates to endure a long-distance race. And so on.
Depending on your individual details such as your age and gender, as well as your lifestyle, hobbies, and activity levels, how you balance your macronutrient intake can have drastic effects on your body. That's why optimizing what you consume is so important.
But most North American diets are very off-balance, with carbohydrates taking up way too much space on the dinner plate.
If you're struggling to reach your goals, try reducing your carbohydrate intake without making any other changes to your lifestyle. This will result in fewer calories, which should trigger some initial weight loss, but will also begin to change your metabolism and how your body produces energy.
We recommend that you carefully monitor your FitTrack Pro report during this process. Keep an eye on your metabolic rate, body fat %, and be sure to use the Dara's smart BMI reporting to see firsthand how these changes are affecting your body composition.
#2 Eliminating carbs "hacks" your body's metabolism
This is where the ketogenic diet comes in. Eliminating carbs promotes fast weight loss because you effectively "hack" your body to stop relying on carbs for fuel, AND fat storage. With a carb-rich diet, whatever your body doesn't immediately use to produce energy is stored away as fat. On the ketogenic diet, your body switches from carbs to fat as its primary source of energy.
The effect is, once your body burns up the fat you consume with your meals, it begins to burn the fat that is currently stored elsewhere.
This is why so many people find the ketogenic diet to be effective for weight loss.
So, is cutting carbs right for you?
For the most extreme dieters, going keto has proven effective though difficult to maintain in the long run. If you think you can handle it, and you want to try going 100% carb-free, pay very close attention to how your body reacts and how eliminating carbs makes you feel.
But if you want to lose weight without using a restrictive diet, you can still cut carbs without eliminating them entirely. To begin with, try reducing refined carbs or removing them altogether while still including whole sources of carbs. Then experiment to see how your body reacts to different whole carbs like grains and legumes.
But ALWAYS use the tools at your disposal to monitor how changes in your diet affect your body. By monitoring your FitTrack Pro reports while you keep track of your dietary changes, you just might unlock your body's very own secret weapon for weight loss.