Weight-loss myths abound, especially when it comes to carbohydrates. One of the most prevalent rumors is that slashing carbs after around 3:00 P.M., so not eating them for an afternoon snack, dinner, or dessert, can help you shed pounds. But can this tactic actually help you achieve healthy, sustainable weight loss? SELF.com tapped three experts to find out, and the truth is, there’s no magical cutoff for when carbs are OK and when they’re weight-loss enemy No. 1. But there are definitely smarter ways to consume carbs that will help, rather than hinder, your weight loss goals.
First of all, it's important to realize "carbs" can mean a lot of things. Bread and pasta aren’t the only foods that have plenty of carbs. “Carbs are in almost everything, from fruits and vegetables to whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Nutrition Starring You, tells SELF. So, giving up all carbs after lunch would be pretty difficult.
The “bad” carbs that are most often associated with weight gain are simple, or refined, carbs. “Refined carbohydrates [like those in white bread and pasta] digest very quickly, so their sugar gets into the bloodstream very quickly as well,” Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, tells SELF.
Complex carbohydrates, found in whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, and fruits and vegetables, often come packed with fiber, which can bulk up food and slow the digestion process. The result is you feel full for a longer time versus if you were to eat simple carbs—and the result of that is that you end up eating less. Hence, whole-grain, high fiber carbohydrates can actually help promote weight loss.
Now, as to the question of eating carbs late in the day: It’s understandable why people think that’s a bad idea, but it’s a fallacy.
There’s the theory that the closer to bedtime you eat carbs, the less time you’ll have to “burn” them off, meaning the carbs will convert into fat as you sleep. That’s a myth, says Talbott. What’s true is that carbohydrates are converted into glucose for energy, and some get stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen, says Talbott. Excess glucose—in other words, sugar that your body isn’t able to use right away or convert into glycogen—can be stored as fat, he explains.
>> Read more: The #1 Thing To Cut From Your Diet Shouldn't Surprise You
But that’s not a carb problem, that’s a math problem. Eating too much of any food, carbs or otherwise, can result in eating too many calories, and extra calories can get stored as fat.
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