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Should I avoid carbohydrates when trying to lose weight?

Manuel Villacorta
Nutrition & Dietetics
Avoiding carbs or eating them in deficient amounts increases ghrelin (hunger hormone), which in turn increases hunger and appetite, so just imagine what all these low-carb and carb-free diets are doing to your hunger and "willpower." It's not just that your body wants carbs; it's that your body needs carbs. More specifically, your brain needs carbs. The brain is just like a muscle that needs fuel. We've always known that carbs fuel us with energy for working out. That's why athletes talk about "carb-loading" before a big event. Now research shows that the average brain needs 130 grams of carbs per day to function optimally.

Think about this in the context of our evolution. It's true that we're never going to be as active as we were in agricultural societies or during the Industrial Revolution when many worked hard-labor jobs. So it seems logical that we wouldn't need as many carbs these days. We are more sedentary, so we require less energy, right? Not really. Even though we're not as active, we still require carbs because now we're using more brainpower. And brainpower, like muscle power, requires energy.

You might think, "Who cares if my brainpower is waning, I just want to lose weight!" But the fact is our brains work in concert with our body processes, so when one is faltering, the other cannot function properly and achieve its goal.
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Robert  Davis, PhD
Health Education
Despite all the complicated explanations offered by various diet plans, weight comes down to simple math. If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you consume fewer, you lose weight. In general, it doesn't matter whether those calories come from carbs, fat, or protein.

Support for this idea comes from more than a dozen randomized trials that have compared various types of diets. Though some show that low-carb diets result in greater weight loss during the first six months, any advantages disappear after one year.

In a longer-term study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 800 overweight adults were randomly assigned to one of four diets, each with a different percentage of carbs, fat, and protein. Calories were also restricted. After two years, all four groups had lost the same amount of weight--about nine pounds on average.

Likewise, in a two-year randomized study that pitted a low-carb diet against a low-fat diet, the low-carb eaters lost no more weight. However, they did have a greater increase in their HDL (good) cholesterol levels. On the other hand, they were more likely to experience side effects such as bad breath, hair loss, constipation, and dry mouth.

The bottom line: Carbohydrates aren't the main cause of weight gain, and you don't have to shun them to shed pounds.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.