Do Carbs Really Prevent You From Losing Weight?



By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder


There’s a lot of conflicting information online about weight loss strategies. It seems like every week there’s yet another trendy diet that promises you will look like J. Lo if you follow it.

But there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when trying to lose weight. What may work for me, may not work for you. However, if you are overweight or obese, a low-carb diet may be one way to go.

A recent study, which was said to be the largest and longest feeding study, suggested that if you eat fewer carbohydrates you burn more calories.

The study included 234 overweight adults (between the ages of 18 to 65). The participants had a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. The researchers took note of the participants’ weight, insulin secretion (which would show if they have high blood sugar levels), metabolic hormones and total energy expenditure (number of calories burned).

According to the researchers, the study tests the “Carbohydrate-Insulin Model.

This model supports the theory that “the processed carbohydrates that flooded our diets during the low-fat era have raised insulin levels, driving fat cells to store excessive calories. With fewer calories available to the rest of the body, hunger increases and metabolism slows -- a recipe for weight gain."

For the first 10 weeks of the study, the participants went on a “weight-loss” diet. In order for the participants to move to the next phase of the study, they had to lose 10 to 14 percent of their body weight on this weight-loss diet. Out of the 234 participants, 164 were able to move on to the next part of the experiment.

The remaining participants were randomly assigned either a high, moderate or low-carb diet for an additional 20 weeks. To give you some perspective, the high-carb diet contained 60 percent of total calories coming from carbs, the moderate had 40 percent and the low had 20 percent.

It is very important to note that, the carbs “provided to all three groups were of high quality, conforming to guidelines for minimizing sugar and using whole rather than highly processed grains.”

So basically, they were eating complex, healthy carbohydrates, not the simple carbs like white breads and pastas.

Furthermore, no matter what diet a participant followed, their total caloric intake was adjusted to maintain the weight loss they achieved from phase 1 of the study. So at this time, none of the participants weight changed considerably. The researchers focused on total energy expenditure, which in other words is calories burned from physical activity. Researchers wanted to see how diets with varying amounts of carbs (but with the same intake of calories) affected people when they exercised.

The Results?

The low-carb group burned significantly more calories than the high-carb group. In fact, participants with the same average body weight who consumed the low-carb diet burned around 250 kilocalories more per day compared to the people eating high-carb.

"If this difference persists -- and we saw no drop-off during the 20 weeks of our study -- the effect would translate into about a 20-pound weight loss after three years, with no change in calorie intake," said Dr. Cara Ebbeling, another main investigator involved in the study.

So in this case, the number of calories consumed were not the most important factor when it came  to losing weight and weight management. It appears that the amount of carbs were more important.

On top of this, the results showed that the participants who had the highest insulin secretion (which indicates a high blood sugar level) at baseline and followed the low-carb diet had even more drastic results. This group burned around 400 kilocalories per day more than the high-carb group.

The researchers believe all of this has to do with a hormone called ghrelin.

“Ghrelin has numerous functions. It is termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage. When administered to humans, ghrelin increases food intake by up to 30%; it circulates in the bloodstream and acts at the hypothalamus, an area of the brain crucial in the control of appetite,” according to one source.

The participants who ate fewer carbs had less of this hormone.

But Carbs are Not the Enemy

This is not to suggest that you should completely avoid carbs if you want to lose weight quickly. Your body actually needs carbohydrates. Carbs are one of the three important macronutrients, along with fats and proteins, which we need to stay healthy. You need carbs for energy and other functions. But it is wise to pay attention to the types of carbs you are consuming, and go for more complex carbohydrates and perhaps steer clear of processed white breads and pastas.

“Carbohydrates should be the body's main source of energy in a healthy balanced diet, providing about 4 kcal (17 kJ) per gram. They are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters the body's cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by your body for energy, fuelling all of your activities, whether going for a run or simply breathing,” according to the National Health Service (NHS).

But if someone is dangerously overweight or morbidly obese, going on a strict low-carb diet and getting adequate exercise may help them lose weight at a faster pace. And for individuals who are extremely overweight, a quicker weight loss may motivate them to continue losing weight. We know excess weight can add a lot of stress on the body, including the heart, so a low carb weight loss program may just be the solution for many people who struggle with severe weight issues.

Finally, to make sure that you are not falling into the category of overnutrition or nutrient deficiency, take a comprehensive nutrient test so that you can determine if you have any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances you need to focus on during your weight loss journey. Certain nutrient deficiencies of iron, magnesium and water may negatively affect your ability to lose weight. As a result, it is important to work with a competent healthcare professional who can help you make the necessary dietary changes and/or recommend quality supplements.


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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