Young Asian diner in a restaurant, using her mobile phone photographing pepperoni pizza and pasta

We’ve all heard the notion before about how carbs can make us gain weight. Because of this, they’re often painted as the culprit of all our weight gain woes.

Bread, pasta, and some of our other favorite foods suddenly become outcasted and avoided at all costs. 

And with an obesity percentage of 42.4% in 2017-2018 in the United States, people are genuinely curious about what causes weight gain.

We asked our users some of the most common health myths they believe in, and the idea that carbs make you gain weight came up time and time again. 

So, do carbs really make you gain weight?

If they do, how and why? 

In today’s article, we’ll be breaking down carbs and whether they really do cause weight gain. Keep reading to find out more!

What are carbs and what do they do?

Carbohydrates play a vital role in the healthy function of our body. They make up ⅓ of what’s considered “macronutrients.” 

Macronutrients include fat, protein, and carbs. 

All three are important nutritious components our body needs to maintain our systems and structure and give us energy.

Carbs in particular are in specific foods and drinks such as:

  • Sugar
  • Fiber
  • Starches 

When we consume carbohydrates, our digestive systems break them down into blood sugar or glucose. Glucose is then absorbed by our bloodstream and used as energy.

Depending on how many carbs we ingest, our blood sugar is sometimes affected.

Eating a lot of carbs can increase your blood sugar levels and when we eat too little it can cause low blood sugar levels

So, it’s best to find a healthy balance and consume carbs in moderation.

Different types of carbs

So, what different types of carbohydrates are there?

We can separate carbohydrates into two categories: complex carbs and simple carbs.

But, what makes them different from one another? After all, they both turn into glucose in your body and are then used for energy.

Complex carbs actually take longer to digest. 

This means they increase glucose levels for a longer span of time, producing a more lasting feeling of energy and helping you stay full for longer. They also provide fiber, minerals, and vitamins. 

On the other hand, simple carbs are quicker to digest, this can cause your blood sugar to spike. This leads to a quick burst of energy that’s often followed by a crash, and because they’re so quick to digest, they often don’t leave you feeling full for long.

They both help with increasing energy levels. But complex carbs will help you feel energetic and full for longer, which could be beneficial when dealing with weight gain.

It’s recommended that the majority of the carbs we consume come from complex carbs rather than simple carbs.

You can find complex carbs in foods like: 

  • Whole grains (such as oatmeal and brown rice)
  • Starchy vegetables (like corn and sweet potatoes)
  • Beans and legumes (like chickpeas and lentils)

Processed and refined sugars like soft drinks, syrups, and candy all contain simple carbs. But simple carbohydrates are also found naturally in some foods. 

Fruits, milk, and milk products all possess simple carbs to some degree.

At the end of the day, the majority of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbs. They can leave you full for longer and the energy experienced will be long-lasting. 

It’s okay to consume some simple carbs, but it’s best to get most of your carbs from complex sources.

Do carbs make you gain weight?

So, do carbs actually put weight on you? 

It’s a narrative we’ve heard so often, so it’s no wonder a lot of people might think that they do. But the thing is, carbohydrates alone don’t make you gain weight

In general, your weight depends on:

  • The number of calories you consume
  • How many calories you store 
  • How many calories you burn

Environmental factors, physical activity, eating habits, genetics, and some health conditions can affect all three of these aspects.

With that said, typically if you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight, and if you burn the calories that you ingest every day, your weight will stay the same.

This is why factors like exercise, health conditions, and genetics play a role in our ability to lose, gain, and maintain weight. 

They can affect our ability to burn calories. 

So, while carbs might contribute to the number of calories you eat a day, they don’t directly cause weight gain. But, eating different types of carbs could affect your eating habits and hunger.

Eating complex carbs will help you stay full for longer, in return causing you to consume fewer calories throughout your day. This is one indirect way that carbohydrate consumption could affect our weight.

But in general, there are way too many moving parts when it comes to weight gain to say that carbs alone cause it. 

Conclusion - Do carbs really make you gain weight?

Carbs play an important role in providing us with energy to go about our day. 

From simple carbs to complex, they both turn into glucose in your body and provide us with energy.

Behind the scenes, they work to help us through exercise, days of work, and even time spent with our family and friends.

But the idea that carbs can increase your weight on their own is a false narrative. 

There are so many other factors that affect our weight, that carbs alone can’t be responsible.

Our genetics, physical activity, the total amount of calories we consume, and environmental factors all play a role.

And while some people might lose a lot of weight by cutting carbs, or doing a low carb diet like Keto, it’s not because carbs themselves cause weight gain. 

They’re either lowering the number of calories they consume a day or training their body to burn stored fat for energy, rather than using glucose. And as a result, in both scenarios, losing weight is easier.

But taking part in diets like these has its own set of risks. The Keto diet could cause:

  • Constipation
  • Nutrient deficiency
  • Liver and kidney problems

Cutting carbs and getting most of your nutrition from fats and protein isn’t really sustainable and there aren't enough studies out there to show the long-term effects it could have on the body. 

With another health myth busted, stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts where we’ll be debunking the many health myths that are out there.

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