Should You Carb Up for Weight Loss?

Posted On Jun 30, 2014 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

good carbs vs. bad carbs

Could eating more carbs actually help you lose more weight? You've cut out bread, pasta, pretzels and potatoes. Not to mention ice cream, cookies and chips. While you're better off without some of these high-calorie, high-carb options, where do you draw the line with banishing carbs from you diet? And can you really never eat a sandwich or baked potato again to drop pounds?

The simple answer is: No, absolutely not. Why should you severely restrict your body's favorite and main source of energy? You shouldn't! Carbs get broken down into glucose, which is used to fuel your body and your brain. Ever wonder why you feel super low on energy and like you can't think straight when you cut carbs? This is why! Our brains need about 130 grams (or 520 calories) of carbohydrates per day to function, on average.

The Carb Spectrum

The quality of carbohydrates varies drastically though. Carbs can be found in fruits, vegetables, all grains and grain products like bread and baked goods, nuts, beans and dairy. Many foods have a combination of different types of carbs or also have healthy fats and protein too. For example, fruit has naturally occurring sugar and fiber; beans have fiber, protein and sugar. Both are part of a well-balanced diet. True whole grains, or those that go through minimal processing, like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, plain oats, quinoa, barley and wheat berries also contain phytonutrients. Even though these foods are better for you overall, the calories are about equivalent to their white carb counterparts. Portion sizes are still important! White rice has about the same amount of calories as brown rice, but you're getting more nutritional benefit from fiber in brown rice that will keep blood sugar levels more even and keep you feeling fuller longer.

How much should you eat?

The following table provides general guidelines based on getting 45-60 percent of daily calories coming from carbs, 25-35 percent from protein and the rest from fat. If you're very active (meaning you exercise for more than 7 hours per week or are training for an endurance event like a marathon or half-marathon), you should go for the higher end of the carb range.

good vs. bad carbs graph

Carbohydrates provide us with the nutrients our body needs. It doesn't matter whether you cut them out to lose weight or not; it's all about reducing total calories – no matter if they come from carbs or protein or fat – and exercising more. But don't you want to keep your body and brain fueled so you can look good AND feel good? Don't skimp on the carbs under the "Eat Every Day or Most Days" category. Your body, mind and taste buds will thank you!