Do Carbs Make You Gain Weight?

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Shorter Version

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To answer this simply – NO. Eating carbohydrates will not cause weight gain. But eating any food in excess will cause weight gain. Carbs get a bad rep for being the source of added love handles around the waist, but this is a myth we are about to bust!

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and fuel for the brain. The brain uses about 120 grams of glucose per day. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar the body prefers to use from broken down food. Glucose is broken down from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains (rice, pasta, bread, oats, cereals, quinoa), legumes, and dairy products, but also from food products like desserts, chips, crackers, granola and protein bars, and many other snack foods.

do carbs make you gain weight

Carbs don’t make you gain weight

Why is it often thought that carbs make you gain weight? It’s the type and quantity of carbohydrates that really matters, not just carbs themselves. Carbs can be sorted into three main categories – simple, complex, and refined.

  • Simple carbohydrates include foods such as bananas and tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, papaya, etc.). Although these foods have a decent amount of sugar, they come with vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber.
  • Complex carbohydrates are slowly digested and absorbed due to their high fiber content and longer chains of sugar molecules. Foods like oats, brown rice, whole-wheat bread and pasta, beans, lentils, potatoes, peas, and green beans are considered complex and help with satiety which can lead to better weight management and portion control.
  • Refined carbohydrates like table sugar and refined grains (white bread, white pasta, cakes, potato chips, etc.) have little nutritional benefits and get absorbed quickly into the bloodstream leading to a spike in blood sugar. This blood sugar spike and crash is what can lead to insulin resistance or diabetes. Most packaged foods have an excess of sugar, fat, and thus calories with little fiber and protein to help you feel full. This trifecta is what can lead to eating too many calories and weight gain.

Dietitian’s Tip: It’s best to eat simple carbs with a source of protein or healthy fat to prevent a spike in blood sugar. Try a banana with peanut butter or pineapple with cottage cheese.

Do carbs make you gain weight?

While low-carb diets have shown to be effective for weight loss, this result is solely short-term. There is no scientific evidence that illustrates cutting out all sources of carbs is going to prevent weight gain. Long-term follow-ups on low-carb diets most often result in regaining the weight that was previously lost (as with most fad diets). Low-carb diets also don’t specify the type of carbs that should be eaten which allows carb-o-phobics to eat refined carbs and other highly processed foods with minimal nutrition.

Low-carb diets restrict (and may even eliminate) an entire food group that contains important daily nutrients. Whole-grains contain B vitamins, iron, and fiber. Dairy products are good sources of calcium, potassium, trace minerals, and protein. Fruits and starchy vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. If you do try a low-carb diet, try making up for all of that when your plate is missing a food group!

What diet does help you to avoid weight gain?

So, what type of diet will help you avoid weight gain? According to the POUNDS LOST trial (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) that compared four different heart-healthy diets with varying quantities of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The results found that a “reduced-calorie” diet containing all the macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) led to “clinically meaningful weight loss.” When the body takes in more calories than it can use as energy, it will store the excess in fat cells to use as energy later.

Find the right balance of all macronutrients for your individual needs to help manage a healthy weight.

Bottom line?

Eating too much of any food will cause weight gain, so don’t fear the carbs. Fear the result of restricting yourself from healthy foods and from having some of your favorite foods!

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Actionable Steps


Check your carbs

Take a look at your food intake. How often and in what quantity are you eating foods considered to be carbohydrates – fruits, starchy vegetables, grains and cereals, beans and legumes, refined or highly processed foods? You might benefit from using a food log like MyFitnessPal to make yourself more aware of your macronutrient balance.


Make the switch

After looking at the type of carbohydrates in your diet, determine if these carbs are nutrient-dense. Are they simple, complex, or refined? The majority of your carbohydrates should be complex (high in fiber) with some being simple carbs like fresh fruit. Keep simple sugars, like juice and sodas, and refined carbs, like cookies, chips, and white-pasta, to a minimum.

Use this Food Gallery to help you make the switch between whole grains and refined grains. Remember, this doesn’t mean you have to eliminate any foods (especially if they’re one of your favorites). Simply focus on trying to add in more fiber-rich carbohydrates.


Plan your portions

While all foods can fit into a healthy diet, the key is to control the portion of those foods to help prevent weight gain. The average person typically needs 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates (that’s about 900-1,300 calories from carbohydrates if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet).

Use this Portion Control Guide using the hand method to help keep your portions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in check.

Note: Specific macronutrient requirements vary for each individual based on age, gender, activity level, and health status.


Indulge with intention

No one wants to have to give up their favorite foods. When choosing foods like desserts or packaged snacks, eat with intention and savor every bite. Read more about Mindful Eating – it can help you avoid overeating.


Work with a Dietitian

Work with a Registered Dietitian if you are concerned about your eating patterns or would like an individualized meal plan.


Read the longer version

Learn Why Carbohydrates are Important from Christy Brissette, MS, RD. Read McKel Kooienga’s, MS, RDN, LDN myth-busting series with Does Eating Carbs at Night Make You Fat. The dietitians at the Cleveland Clinic explain Are Carbs Really That Bad for You – Or Not. Get Nancy Clark’s, MS, RD take on Carbohydrates: Why Are They So Confusing.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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