Carbohydrates have… gained a bad reputation among dieters because they have a reputation for being fattening. However, this is one of the biggest misconceptions. Most of the time, weight gain is the direct result of eating too many calories, not just carbohydrates.
In fact, carbohydrates are one of the most important macronutrients you need and a vital source of energy for your body. They fuel your muscles and play an important role in brain functions related to mood, memory and more.
Read on to find out why carbs tend to be blamed more for weight gain and if there’s any scientific data behind these claims.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients – types of calories – found in food. Proteins and fats are the other two. The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy to the brain, other organs and tissues.
When you consume carbs, they are broken down in your gut into glucose and released into your bloodstream. Your pancreas responds by releasing insulin to transport this glucose into the cells. Many carbohydrate-rich foods also provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important for overall health.
Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrate-rich foods can contain one or more of three different types: sugars, starches, and fiber. Starches and fiber are considered complex carbohydrates, while sugars are simple carbohydrates.
THE Complex carbohydrates they are made up of glucose molecules linked together in long chains. Your body must digest or break down complex carbohydrates into glucose molecules in order to absorb them from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, where they can be used as fuel.
Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that your body cannot digest. Fiber prevents constipation and helps promote a feeling of fullness, regulate blood sugar and control cholesterol.
The majority of carbs in your diet should come from complex carbs, according to health.com.
Sugars are also called simple carbohydrates because they are the most basic form of carbohydrates. They can be present naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables and milk. Sugars can also be added to foods to make them sweeter, such as a spoonful of sugar mixed into your coffee or sugary drinks, candies and desserts. Sugars added to foods and drinks to make them sweet are called added sugars.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars due to the link between excessive consumption of added sugars and health risks. They advise women to consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, or six teaspoons. Men should limit added sugar to no more than 36 grams per day, or nine teaspoons.
Too much added sugar can increase your risk of the following health problems and others:
- Cardiac disease
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Certain cancers
- High blood pressure
- Kidney and liver disease
Simple and refined carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates include added sugars as well as processed complex carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice. Processing the grains removes the bran and germ, which gives starches a finer texture and longer shelf life, but also removes fiber and essential nutrients.
Sugars can also be refined. One example is the production of high fructose corn syrup from corn.
Simple carbs are shorter glucose chains that break down faster, while complex carbs are longer glucose chains that take longer to break down and therefore don’t raise your blood sugar as significantly.
How Carbohydrates Are Linked to Weight Gain
Carbohydrates do not inherently cause weight gain. In most cases, the quality of carbohydrates you consume and the total number of calories are the main determinants of weight gain.
A systematic review of previously published studies in 2022 failed to show that low-carb diets were superior to weight-loss diets with a balanced carbohydrate intake. The data showed there was little or no difference in weight loss and risk factors for heart disease in the short term (three to 8.5 months) or long term (one to two years).
Other research suggests that the type of carbohydrates consumed is essential. Several studies show that high consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars increases the risk of obesity, while Unprocessed foods high in carbohydrates are associated with weight loss.