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Low-carb diets are all the rage; and for good reason. Whenever you cut carbs, you lose a lot of weight, very quickly. This has lead many to demonise carbs – but is the reputation warranted, or entirely undeserved?

“Carbs make you fat.”

“Low carb diets are best”

“Too many carbs prevent weight loss.”

“Don’t eat carbs after 6pm.”


How many times have you heard one of the above, and not given it a second thought?

With so much negative feeling towards carbs, it’s no wonder that they’re often deemed the bad guy of the dieting world. People tend to just accept it as fact that you need to cut carbs to lose weight. After all, anyone who switches to a low carb diet can immediately lose a few pounds within a matter of days. So surely that proves that carbs are bad when it comes to weight loss?

It’s not quite the case though.

Good results of low carb diet don't mean that carbs in general are bad

Let’s start by clearing up this first point – that going on a low carb diet leads to such rapid weight loss that this means carbs in general are bad.

The reason why this sudden weight loss occurs is not a result of fat loss – it’s simply that by eating fewer carbs, your body’s stores of carbohydrate (known as glycogen) are burnt off and not replaced.

You can carry up to 500 grams of glycogen at any one time, and each gram of glycogen holds with it 3 grams of water. Therefore, 500 grams of glycogen, plus 1.5 kilograms of water suddenly disappearing from your body results in a weight loss of 2 kilograms. Once again, this isn’t fat loss, it’s simply a loss of water weight, and it will go straight back on once you eat carbs again, and refill those glycogen stores.

So there’s that myth put to bed.

Do carbs contribute to fat gain?

Secondly, there’s this belief that carbs contribute to fat gain.

This is due to a hormone known as insulin. The premise is that when you eat carbohydrate, your body releases insulin, which is needed to help carry and store the carbs (as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells.) 

While insulin has this important job to do, higher levels of insulin are associated with a blunt in fat burning mechanisms and hormones, as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The trouble with this theory though, is that you can only store fat when you’re in a calorie surplus (ie. Eating more than you burn.) Even if your insulin levels are high, you won’t store fat, unless you’re eating too many calories.

Additionally, it isn’t just carbs that promote the release of insulin – protein and carbs do too, and while this is largely to a lesser extent, there are exceptions. Whey protein, for instance, is highly insulogenic, despite containing virtually no carbohydrate.

The other reason why people often state that eating carbs, and in particular starchy carbs from bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and so on, is that it’s easy to overeat these kinds of foods.

This is partially true, though it is dependent on the person. If you find you enjoy carbs and can eat them in moderation and within your required calorie intake, there’s no need to restrict them.

Carbs contain 4 calories per gram, which is the same as protein, but less than half that of fat, which contains 9 calories per gram. Therefore, in terms of energy density, carbs are far less energy dense than fats. Compare a slice of bread that contains 20 grams of carbs (80 calories) with a 40 gram serving of Brazil nuts at 20 grams of fat (180 calories) – and you can see where carb-based foods might be superior to fats.

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