In your average line-up of nutritional heavyweights, the humble beige carb is nowhere to be seen. But, while we know the macronutrient is essential for energy, science is now pointing to carbohydrates as the key to achieving a healthy body composition too. Seriously. Here’s how to use carbs to lose weight.
A tale of two carbs…
Increasingly, research is emphasising the significance of the difference between simple and complex carbs – and they don’t call them complex for nothing. “As their name suggests, simple carbohydrates break down in one step. When you eat a chocolate bar, the simple carbohydrate sucrose molecules head directly to your small intestine where they’re quickly converted to glucose and absorbed into your bloodstream, causing your insulin levels to quickly rise,” explains Kaitlin Colucci, dietician and spokesperson for the BDA.
“Whereas complex carbohydrate molecules require more work to convert to glucose. When you eat a piece of whole-grain bread or a forkful of whole-grain pasta, saliva surrounds the complex carb molecule and begins breaking it down into maltose. Then an enzyme in your intestine called amylase has to break it down further into smaller glucose molecules, at which point they can enter your bloodstream. This longer process causes a slower rise in your insulin levels, avoiding any sudden peaks.” In short, swap simple carbs for their complex cousins and you’ll feel fuller for longer, meaning you won’t be so tempted by the 3pm sugar monster.
Complex carbs for weight loss
This is important because more and more research is pointing to satiety, rather than deprivation, being the key to long-term weight maintenance. It means that, while culling all carbs (as restrictive and miserable as that is) might help you lose weight in the short-term, eating complex carbs could be the key to keeping the weight off long-term.
“In studies that have looked at low-carb diets versus low-fat diets over 12 months, it seems that, after six months, people’s behaviour tends to converge, meaning they start eating more similar amounts of carbohydrates, regardless of which diet they’re on,” says Dr Duane Mellor, senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University and British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokesperson. “Some people manage to maintain a low-carb diet, but others don’t. Eating a range of foods sensibly, including complex carbs, can avoid the risk of deprivation and help to maintain a feeling of fullness or satiety after meals.”