Let's Give Carbs a Chance | Washington DC Dietitian

Carbohydrates. As a nation we love to hate them. They are the first thing to be eliminated from our diets and the first thing we blame for weight gain. Yes, carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, but like most foods it isn’t because they are bad for you, but because of the amount that we eat. Rice and pasta are healthy until we consume 3 or 4 cups at one time!

The fact is that carbohydrates from starches, fruit and dairy are essential for survival. They provide us with energy and nutrients and are our main source of fuel. When we are born we rely on carbohydrates from milk for the first few months of our lives. It is human nature to crave and consume carbs because we were intended to.

This topic is important to me because often times the first thing you hear when someone is on a diet is that they cut out carbohydrates, even though they are needed for survival.

Things are about to get technical while I explain the facts about carbs.

Carbohydrates are our main source of energy. Carbohydrates turn into glucose in our bodies and glucose is the only source of energy for the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Carbohydrate stores in the body don’t last long so the only way to replace them is by doing one thing: eating more carbs (about every 4-6 hours)!

When the body doesn’t get energy from carbohydrates it turns to the next fuel source: protein from your muscles. Protein gets taken apart and turned into glucose to provide energy, which weakens your hard-earned muscle mass. When muscle mass is reduced, your metabolism slows down which can lead to weight gain. This is the opposite of your goal.

Sadly, eating a high protein diet will not restore the lost muscle mass. When carbohydrates are sparse, the protein you eat is used for fuel instead of doing what it is intended to: building and repairing your muscles, hormones, enzymes and cells.

But what about fat? Our initial thought is that fat could be used for energy to help us lose weight, but that is not the case. Our main source of fuel is carbohydrates, followed by protein, followed by small amounts of fat. 

Yes, weight loss can be fast when we eliminate carbohydrates due to the “hydrate” in “carbohydrate”. Carbohydrates attract water so when we cut them out we initially lose water weight. This is not to be confused with losing actual fat mass. Once you start consuming carbs again it is likely you will gain that weight back.

To sum it up, carbohydrates are VERY important. They are the main source of fuel for our bodies. When we reduce carbohydrate intake energy comes from our muscles, which decreases muscle mass, slows your metabolism and can lead to long-term weight gain. Bottom line, include carbohydrates as part of a healthy, balanced diet for optimal health and performance.