The 411 on carbohydrates and weight loss

Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and sweeteners, and they play a unique and much-needed role in the body. Carbs are sugars, which provide our body with its main energy source.

Nutritional research is giving insight into how the nutrient can adversely affect weight, and why it can be so hard to give up. Here’s the 411 on carbs, their role in your body, and how you can limit them in your diet.

Carbs and weight

Carbohydrates — especially grains, starches, and sugars — influence insulin levels after meals. This insulin then sends signals to burn carbohydrates and accumulate fat.

Eating carbs can stimulate insulin and can make your body crave even more carbohydrates. Meanwhile, your body is storing all of these excess calories as fat.

Some nutritionists and scientists now believe that obesity is a hormonal regulatory disorder dominated by insulin — and that carbohydrates can contribute greatly to obesity. The insulin spikes from eating carbs is believed to be directly linked to an accumulation of excess fat. That excess fat is tied to cravings and hunger.

So nutritionists and researchers now believe that trimming down on carb-heavy foods can help with weight loss — but cutting back carbs can be difficult.

Finding the right balance

The solution to carbs isn’t to necessarily eliminate them completely. Some carbs are considered more damaging than others. Simple carbs found in bread and sugary drinks easily spike insulin and increase hunger pangs. Complex carbs, like those found in whole grains and vegetables, release energy at a steadier pace and are a better option.

In terms of how many carbs to eat, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests carbs should make up 45-65 percent of daily calorie intake.

But since eating carbs makes you crave carbs, the best approach for overeating the nutrient is to learn to avoid the simple carbs when possible, according to addiction specialist Laura Schmidt, at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “It’s harder to avoid junk foods in the food environment around us, but we can certainly clean up our home environment and avoid situations where sugar and other treats are easily available.”

Read more about how to avoid overeating carbs.

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