Now more than ever, cutting carbs is the first thing many people do when embarking on a weight-loss plan. But does this strategy work? And, does it matter what kind of carbs you take in?
3 CLAIMS FOR WHY LOW-CARB WORKS (AND, ARE THEY TRUE?)
There is no common consensus as to why a low-carb eating plan can help with weight loss. Here is a quick-and-dirty summary for why some claim that low-carb eating can help you shed pounds:
1. Carbohydrates trigger insulin to enhance your body’s fat-storing ability.
During digestion, carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose (aka blood sugar). In response, your pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that opens the door to your body’s cells, allowing glucose to get inside. This is important because your body tissues and organs (especially your brain!) use glucose for fuel. Insulin is stimulated by the food we eat in varying degrees, and carbohydrates stimulate insulin more than any other macronutrient. Protein stimulates insulin to a lesser extent, but fat doesn’t stimulate insulin at all.
What does this mean for weight loss? The release of insulin after a high-carb meal signals a shutdown of fat burning while the body uses the glucose from the carbohydrates for energy. This mechanism is what fuels the low-carb debate. Except there’s one problem. The notion that stimulating less insulin so you can burn fat doesn’t pan out in the research. The problem with this claim is that you’re always burning fat at rest, and, depending on your intensity, during exercise, too. Insulin’s effect on fat burning only occurs after a meal. A number of factors more directly affect your body-fat composition than insulin. This includes energy balance (how many calories you eat versus how much exercise you get), strength training, hormonal factors and genetics.
2. Low-carbohydrate foods help control cravings.
This claim definitely has some meat to it. It’s something I say to my clients all the time: The more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want. Cutting back on sugary sweets and refined carbohydrates can help decrease your cravings for them over time. But, an even more effective (and easier!) strategy is to eat more protein. Studies show that protein helps you feel full for longer periods of time, which can reduce food intake overall and even reduce cravings. In fact, one study showed that eating a high-protein breakfast (40% protein) caused a decrease in food cravings and late-night snacking. This appetite-controlling effect is seen without purposely limiting calories, allowing you to feel full on less food.