Are carbs fattening?

are carbs fattening?

I will never forget at the inaugural Eat With Zest event, a scrumptious evening of ladies packed into a kitchen, when a woman I greatly admire beamed and said,

"Thank you for giving me permission to eat carbs!" 

She, like basically every person alive, loves carbs. I mean, who does not salivate at least a little when imaging a perfectly flaky chocolate croissant or pizza served hot from a wood-fired oven?! 

The thing that gets me is that just as common as the primal love of cookies, is the guilty tail-between their legs when admitting this love-affair, like it's somehow scandalous and shameful to like potatoes and pasta. When and how did something as basic as bread become a "bad" food?  

women who crave carbs

So, do carbs really deserve this sinful reputation?

In short, no.

Here's the deal: All carbohydrates and all proteins have 4 calories (i.e. energy) per gram. This means that when drilling down to the most basic science, carbs provide the same amount of energy as protein. 

Of course, nothing in life is this simple and here is where things get a bit more complex; not all carbs are created equal.

Carbohydrates can be split into two groups; complex and simple. The complex carbs are in their natural, unadulterated, nutrient-rich state (for the most part).

By contrast, simple, or refined, carbs (white rice, pasta, white bread, pastries, desserts, etc.) have been processed - a scary word without a precise definition. In this case, processing essentially means that the brown bread (complex carb) is turned into white bread (simple carb) by removing the fiber and most of the micronutrients. Left behind is a bright white starch with less flavor and nutrients, but a longer shelf-life. 

complex carbohydrates

There is a long list of problems with this refining process, but I'll just hit a few highlights:

  1. Number one is the removal of fiber, which is responsible for filling you up and keeping you full for longer - think of fiber as your natural appetite regulator. Complex carbs have lots of fiber, refines ones do not. 

  2. The loss of nutrients including protein, anti-aging vitamin E and many others, is also a major issue. When you eat refined carbs, although your body is getting energy, it may not be getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need. This makes you naturally want to eat more until your body gets its fill of nutrients. nom nom. 

  3. Impossible to ignore is the blood sugar (and appetite) roller coaster. Without the fiber, which slows digestion, the refined grains also hit your bloodstream much faster. Kind of like a tidal wave, your blood sugar levels climb high then fall fast. When your blood sugar crashes, guess what?!? You're hungry again (and probably cranky too). 

Low carb diets have taken the nation by storm because when people eliminate carbs, they typically cut out refined varieties like pastries and white pasta. These foods not only cause crashes in blood sugar and energy levels, they also leave people feeling insatiable.  

The point in all of this is that carbs, in and of themselves, are not fattening.

Refined carbs can destabilize your satiety signals and cause you to eat more overall, which yes, may cause weight gain.... however, don't give up your favorite foods! Just remember to choose the complex carbs more of the time.

Cutting out carbohydrates altogether deprives your brain and internal organs of energy and essential nutrients. Not to mention, 

Do you really want to give up ice cream or sweet potato fries for the rest of your life?!

That would be no fun at all. 

Complex carbs give you long-lasting energy and are all super nutrient-dense, so you need less of them to feel satisfied. Complex carbs include sweet potatoes, beans, fruit, winter squash, corn, peas and grains like quinoa & wild rice.

date-sweetened pumpkin pie

Want more energy and interested to try new kinds of whole grains like millet and wheat berries? 

We offer a free guide to batch cooking whole grains when you sign up for Success In Six (no big commitment - just one email for six days with health tips you can take action on right away). 

I hope this helps clarify some the confusing out there! This blog is here to help you find balance in eating that feels good, so if something is not clear or could use more explanation, let us know! You can always ask us by commenting below or emailing joinus@eatwithzest. 

With Love & Zest,


Carb guilt