Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

Because carbohydrates can be used as a primary energy source by our bodies, they have an important role in our diets. However, many people eat carbs in excess, and this often contributes to weight gain. During your weight loss program, you’ll be reducing your carb intake, which will help you avoid the fat buildup caused by high carbohydrate consumption and take advantage of your body’s ability to burn fat.

What Are Carbohydrates, Anyway?

Carbohydrates are compounds that our bodies use as fuel. They can be found in foods like:

  • Sweets
  • Breads and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Milk and dairy products

When we eat these kinds of foods, our bodies convert carbohydrates into glucose, a sugar that serves as the primary energy source for our cells. But when we don’t use all the glucose we take in, a hormone called insulin transports it to our fat cells for storage.

“Insulin signals the fat cells to take that sugar out of the blood, bring it into the fat cells and convert it to fat where it’s now stuck,” says medical obesity specialist Dr. Robert Ziltzer.

How Fewer Carbs Can Help with Weight Loss

Many people eat far more carbs than they can use for energy. When we eat too many high-carbohydrate foods but stay relatively inactive, we end up pumping sugar into our bodies faster than we can burn it off.

“Many people are overeating starches and sugars, and as a result they continually gain fat mass,” Dr. Ziltzer says.

Reducing the number of carbs in your diet can help you prevent this gradual build-up of fat, but it also has another interesting effect. According to Dr. Ziltzer, our bodies don’t release as much insulin when we eat fewer carbohydrates, and this signals the fat cells to start breaking down fatty acids for energy.

“As a result, we’re now using fat for fuel, and that’s ultimately how we lose weight: by using fat for our primary fuel source instead of all the sugar that we get in our diet,” Dr. Ziltzer says.

Several commercial diets focus on reducing carbohydrate intake to achieve this effect, but Dr. Craig Primack, also a medical obesity specialist, says that these diets are ultimately difficult to sustain.

“We’ve proven over time that the Atkins diet is one way to use fat for fuel, but that’s an extreme form,” Dr. Primack says. “We don’t believe in dropping our carbohydrates to quite those levels, but we do believe in less than the current society believes.”

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