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Do you need to cut carbs to lose weight?

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It feels like everywhere you look these days, everyone is saying all carbs are bad. Is that true? Dr. Julie Chen helps you understand the role of carbs and how to reduce them.

With all the fad diets these days, it’s a challenge to know which diets are beneficial and effective and which ones are harmful. Many of my patients ask about carbohydrates and whether they should avoid them altogether. People frequently forget that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates as well, so even with diets that avoid “carbs,” you are still getting them through your plant-based foods. 

It’s important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t eliminate entire food groups at a time. Instead, you should learn to eat smart within each food group so as to maximize nutritional intake and minimize weight gain and sugar issues. 

When you focus on eating whole unprocessed grains and vegetables, you are naturally going to be eating healthier and the weight will usually drop off because you have a new healthier eating pattern. Carbs like cookies, white breads, pastas and sweets are destructive to your body and to your weight loss efforts. 

So, the way to focus on eating a well-balanced diet is to make sure that most of your carbohydrates are coming from vegetables. Do you already have pre-diabetes or diabetes? I usually recommend my patients with these issues stay with vegetables more and avoid too many fruits since they have a higher sugar load. With high glycemic index foods, the increased sugar load on the body is more inflammatory and harmful to cellular functioning than those foods that are broken down slowly, releasing a steady stream of fuel to the body. 

The body responds well to a diet that is mostly plant-based and low in sugar, with enough healthy fats (check out our guide to healthy fats) and lean protein. The key image I usually recommend to my patients is that at least half of your plate is full of vegetables; another quarter of the plate is from lean proteins and healthy fats like avocadoes, nuts, or fish; and the last quarter of the plate is filled with whole unprocessed grains like quinoa, barley, oats or and brown rice, to name just a few.

The reason I don’t recommend a diet completely devoid of carbohydrates is because there are many health benefits included in a diet that consists of whole grains and vegetables. A diet without these is usually missing vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. All of these are essential to regular cellular functioning. 

When you want to fine-tune your diet, look towards meals that are high in plants, healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole unprocessed grains — in the proportions I mentioned in this article.

Five simple steps to carb reduction

The next time you are with friends and they are looking to streamline their diet as well, the key points to pass along are:

  1. Eat a mostly plant-based diet
  2. Avoid refined sugars and carbohydrates
  3. Make whole grains and vegetables the foundation of your carbohydrate intake
  4. Include healthy fats and lean proteins in  your daily diet
  5. Avoiding major food groups is never a good idea in any diet


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