How Carbs Help You Lose Weight

Featured Article, News and Advice, Nutrition, Weight Loss
on June 2, 2011
Mark Boughton Photography/ styling by Teresa Blackburn

Over the past couple of decades, the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets such as South Beach and Atkins have helped to propagate the common misconception that carbs are bad. And despite the fact that dietitians have and continue to promote all things, including carbs, in moderation, the stigma of the word scares away many prospective dieters.

Diets emphasizing a carb-cutting approach still have a stronghold among those seeking to shed pounds quickly. But a growing body of research indicates that, from a long-term perspective, this is not an effective strategy. In fact, a large, multi-center study found that the thinnest people ate the most carbs; the heaviest people ate the fewest.

If you're a hamburger (bun included) away from giving up on your diet, pay attention. Carbs are not the enemy. Incorporated wisely into a balanced diet, they can actually promote and help maintain weight loss. Here’s how.

  • Carbs curb your appetite. High in fiber and slow to digest, these appetite tamers can effectively satisfy you (or at least take the edge off your hunger) on fewer calories, while keeping you from overdoing it at meals or between. In general, “good” carbs refer to those that are not processed, says registered dietitian Dawn Blatner, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Dieters may have good luck with foods high in resistant starch. Some nutritious, diet-friendly carb options are whole grains, beans, pasta, bread, potatoes, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Carbs boost energy and mood.  Weight loss aside, the body needs 130 grams of carbs each day to ensure proper brain functioning. Additionally, “carbohydrates in a well-balanced diet can help produce adequate amounts of feel-good compounds such as serotonin,” Blatner says. “They are also the main group of foods used by our body for energy, so eating unprocessed carbs in moderation helps keep energy levels up.” That’s particularly important when you’re trying to lose weight, as an energy boost may be just what you need to supercharge your workouts.
  • Carbs help you stick with a diet long-term. “Low-carb diets are not sustainable,” says Ellen Kunes, editor-in-chief of Health magazine and author of the best-selling book The Carb Lover’s Diet. “When you’re on a diet that’s not sustainable, you tend to engage in yo-yo dieting. People tend to gain the weight back and gain even more weight over time.” Another strike against the sustainability of low-carb diets, adds Blatner, is that heavily restricting a certain type of food may eventually result in a binge.
  • Carbs are just plain tasty. Depriving yourself of foods you love is a surefire way to derail a diet. With moderation as your guide, it is possible to enjoy some of your favorites even when you’re looking to shed a few pounds. “Carbs are a part of many delicious meals, so with strict limits on them, satisfaction with food may decrease,” Blatner says. “This can make it harder, if not impossible, to stick with the plan