Carb lovers, rejoice! Research suggests pasta may actually contribute to weight loss, if eaten in moderation.1 And pasta isn’t the only carbohydrate that can be good for you. Although many recent weight loss trends — like the keto diet — suggest that you need to cut out carbohydrates entirely, those trends are missing an important piece of information: Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for your body. We sat down with Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Briana Rodriquez, to get the truth about carbs — find out how they can be part of a healthy diet and how they may even help you lose weight.
All carbs aren’t “bad.”
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels
Unsure how to tell healthy carbs from unhealthy carbs? There are two main types: simple and complex carbohydrates. Here’s how to tell them apart.
Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and provide the body with a jolt of glucose, also known as blood sugar.2 Many foods containing simple carbohydrates, including candy and pastries, can be full of refined sugar. But if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to reduce your sugar intake. Nutrient-rich sources of natural sugar include fruit and root vegetables, which contain fructose, and dairy products, which contain galactose.3
Complex carbohydrates are full of fiber, which helps them to be digested slowly and to release glucose more slowly than simple carbs.2 Enjoying meals that include complex carbs can help fill you up, which may help with weight management. Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains are all great sources of complex carbohydrates.
If your goals include weight loss, Rodriquez suggests eating smaller amounts of carbohydrates, including fruit and starchy vegetables (like corn, peas and potatoes). Instead, opt for lower-calorie carbohydrates that are nutritious and filling by enjoying delicious non-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, asparagus, spaghetti squash, cucumbers and eggplant are all great options.
They can be great sources of fiber and resistant starch.
Carbohydrates can be rich in dietary fiber and resistant starch, two components that may help support your health.
Dietary fiber is found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There are two main types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber can be found in beans, nuts, seeds, and certain fruits and vegetables.4 This type of fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel that helps to slow digestion.5 This is important, research suggests, because it increases the amount of time the nutrients interact with processes in your body that signal satiety.6
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and can be found in vegetables and whole grains. Because it remains mostly intact during digestion, insoluble fiber helps food to pass through the body.5
Resistant starch is found in a variety of foods that also contain fiber, including legumes, grains, potatoes, and more. Similarly to soluble and insoluble fiber, resistant starch is broken down slowly by the body and may help you to feel satisfied.7
And it’s not just beneficial for digestion, eating a fiber-rich diet may support heart health, as well. A review of multiple studies found that people who consumed the highest amounts of dietary fiber could reduce their risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke between 7% to 24%.8
You don’t need to completely avoid carbs to lose weight.
Now that you’re more familiar with the types of carbohydrates and their benefits, consider this: Cutting carbs in an extreme way isn’t really worth the trouble.
Take the keto diet, for instance, that emphasizes high-fat, moderate protein meals and discourages practitioners from eating too many carbohydrates. Maintaining ketosis — when your body burns fat instead of glucose for fuel — can be tricky to maintain and may not work well for everyone, says Rodriquez.
With that in mind, it’s not necessary to sacrifice carbohydrates in the name of weight loss. There’s an easier way to have your carbs and eat them, too: enjoying balanced meals in appropriate portions and putting an emphasis on complex carbohydrates.
“Carbohydrates are a crucial part of a healthy diet,” Rodriquez explains, “but it’s important to keep an eye on portion sizes and the types of carbs you eat.”
At mealtimes, Rodriquez suggests making fiber-rich non-starchy vegetables the stars of your plate, then adding smaller amounts of protein, fruit, healthy fat and starch. (This simple portion size guide can help!)
“If you find yourself feeling hungry throughout the day, you may want to incorporate more resistant starch and fiber-rich non-starchy carbs into your meals,” says Rodriquez. “They’re often low in calories, are nutrient-dense, and may help you feel full and satisfied after eating, so you’re less likely to munch on unhealthy snacks in between meals.”
Your DNA could play a part in how your body uses carbs.
While some people may benefit from a higher amount of carbohydrates when losing weight, others may do better with lower carb meals. But how do you find out what could work for you? Try taking a DNA test.
Certain genetic markers could indicate how well your body uses carbohydrates and point you in the right direction.
Jenny Craig’s DNA Decoder Plan provides delicious, perfectly-portioned menu plans based on your results and reveals 15 key DNA insights, including how efficiently your body processes carbs, fat and protein; how well you’re likely to respond to cardio and strength training exercise; and more.
And while genetics could play a part in your weight loss efforts, your lifestyle choices matter, too. Actively practicing healthy habits, like reaching for nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, enjoying mindful portions and incorporating exercise into your day could all have positive effects on your weight loss efforts.
When it comes to carbs (and weight loss), balance is key
Don’t want to give up chocolate cake, pizza and pasta? You don’t have to.
“If you don’t have to worry about cutting out your favorite foods while following a weight loss program, it’s easier to enjoy your meals and focus on eating nutritious ingredients in healthy portions,” says Rodriquez.
Consider portion-friendly alternatives, like enjoying a single serving of Chocolate Lava Cake, reaching for a slice of cheesy Pepperoni Pizza with extra veggies to use as toppings, or having a plate of Chicken Fettucine Alfredo with a side of vegetables.
Love carbs? We have a weight loss plan for you!
Jenny Craig’s menu plans incorporate delicious, healthy versions of your favorite foods, without counting calories, or spending long hours in the kitchen. Paired with a personal weight loss consultant, you’ll have tons of support throughout your weight loss journey. Get started by booking your free appointment today!
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.