Have you ever noticed how, when it comes to fat loss, everybody seems to be a personal trainer and/or a certified nutritionist? When you mention the fact that you’re looking to lose weight, or that you could perhaps stand to lose a few pounds, people are very quick to start telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and what you should and should not be eating and drinking. Now, don’t get us wrong, there is nothing wrong with people offering helpful advice now and then, but what we take issue to, is the fact that 90% of the time, the “advice” being handed out, is complete and utter nonsense. When it comes to fat loss, in the past people were convinced that fat in all forms was responsible for weight gain, which is why zero fat diets were so popular several decades ago. Nowadays however, we’ve discovered that some fats are incredibly beneficial for you, and that perhaps carbohydrates could be to blame for our ever-expanding waistlines. Because of this, some people are quick to talk about how fats are at fault for us gaining weight, while others try to convince us to steer clear of carbohydrates. With one person saying one thing, and another saying the exact opposite, knowing what to do for the best can be tricky. In an attempt to make things a little more transparent, we’ll now be looking at whether carbs or fats are worse for fat gain, so take a look and see what you think.
To get things moving, we’ll start off by taking a look at fats. Now, not too long ago in the past, fats in all forms were demonized beyond belief. Fats were blamed for obesity, as well as pretty much every other ailment you could possibly think of in the process. If you suddenly received a pay cut at work, fats were to blame. If the cute guy or girl at your local gym didn’t want to go for a drink with you, fats were to blame. Yes, the press jumped all over fats and tore them to shreds, and the general public bought into this very primitive form of “fat shaming”. Because all forms of fat were blamed for weight gain, it became the norm to go virtually fat-free if you wanted to lose weight. Because of this, chemically enhanced “reduced fat” spreads like margarine were created to replace butter, and initially were marketed as being a “healthy alternative to butter”. As it turns out, these spreads were not healthier, in fact, they were far, far, far, far, far, far worse as they have been linked with a number of very serious illnesses and diseases, including various forms of cancer. As time went by and research began to evolve, we learned more about fat, especially in regards to how not all fats were created equally. Yes, some fats are incredibly bad for us and are responsible party for obesity, heart disease, hypertension, blocked arteries, and much more besides. Other fats however, are incredibly healthy, and are actually essential if we want to enjoy optimal health and well-being. So, what’s the story on fats and weight gain?
The good side of fats
As mentioned, some fats are bad, namely trans fats and non-natural saturated fats. Others however, namely monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and some natural saturated fats, are actually incredibly good for us. Though there is a lot more science to this, the simple fact of the matter is that, from an evolutionary perspective, the human body needs fat as its primary source of fuel. Millions of years ago when our Neanderthal ancestors roamed the earth in the form of cavemen and women, fat was the primary source of energy, and during long, dark, cold winters, fat was often the difference between life and death. As we have had fat as a primary source of fuel for millions of years, and as we have only had carbs as a key source of energy for around 10,000 years, you can see what the body is most accustomed to. Fats are essential for countless physiological processes within our bodies. To begin with, fats are vital for cellular growth, health, and function, plus they assist with nutrient absorption. Some vitamins for example, are fat-soluble, which means that they can only be broken down and absorbed by the body, in the presence of fat. Without fat, these vitamins and nutrients would simply go to waste. What’s more, many healthy forms of fat, I.E essential fatty acids like those you find in oily fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, have been found to help protect the heart and promote a healthy cardiovascular system. But what about weight gain/loss. Well, fats have also been found to help speed up the metabolism, meaning that you will burn off more calories and enjoy more energy when you consume fats. The faster your metabolism, the more efficient you become at losing weight. As mentioned, because we have been using fat for energy for so long, the body knows how to break fat down and utilize it for fuel when consumed, providing it is not combined with carbs. Carbohydrates are easier for the body to use for fuel, so when you combine fats with carbs, many of the fats you consume will be stored as fat. That’s why ketogenic diets, which have been found to melt fat away like there is no tomorrow, call for an incredibly low carbohydrate approach to diet.
The bad side of fats
Now, so far, we’ve only spoken about fats in a positive light, but there is a dark side to fats as well. In regard to weight loss, the thing to remember is that, healthy or not, all fat you consume contain more calories than proteins and carbs. 1g of carbs provides 4 calories of energy, whereas 1g of fat provides 9 calories of energy. The simple fact of the matter is that, once you are in a caloric surplus where your body takes in more calories than it needs to maintain itself, rather than wasting these calories, the body will instead take them, convert them to fat, and store them as an emergency source of energy for a later date. When people speak about the health risks of fats, primarily they are talking about unhealthy, heavily processed trans fats that you find in junk food. Unhealthy fats have been found to increase LDL cholesterol, which is a harmful cholesterol that can clog your arteries and put you at risk for all kinds of illnesses and diseases. Trans fats and non-natural saturated fats like you find in processed junk foods, have also been found to not only cause weight gain, but to promote visceral body fat around the abdomen. Visceral body fat can put your major organs under intense strain and pressure, and can cause all kinds of problems, including fatty liver disease, which is where the liver literally is coated in a layer of fat. If left untreated, this condition, and many others caused in part by excessive consumption of unhealthy fats, can be fatal.
We’ve looked at fats, so now it’s time to look at carbohydrates. Well, like fats, not all carbohydrates are created equally, and yes, some are healthy, and some are not. Carbohydrates can either be: complex carbs, or simple carbs. Complex carbs are considered healthy, whereas simple carbs, well, not so much. Carbohydrate is basically a diverse term used to describe various forms of sugar and starch found in foods. Simple carbohydrates refer to foods with high sugar contents, so foods like: sweets, candy, fruit, fruit juice, and white flour-based products are classed as simple carbs. Simple carbs are absorbed much faster by the body than complex carbs, which is why they can cause increases in a person’s weight (more on that later). Complex carbs however, are digested and broken down much slower by the body, and provide a slower, more gradual release of energy. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in foods such as: wholegrains, brown rice, brown pasta, sweet potatoes, pulses, cereals, and so on.
The good side of carbs
To start with, we’ll look at carbohydrates in a positive light. You see, the body finds it much easier to utilize carbohydrates for energy than it does some forms of fat, making many complex carbohydrates ideal for people that are looking to enjoy sustained releases of energy to keep them going throughout the day. It also doesn’t hurt that most forms of complex carbohydrates, also happen to be rich in minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and potassium, as well as vitamins, especially B-vitamins that help boost the metabolism. Most complex carbohydrates are also a great source of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has many health benefits, but from a weight-loss perspective it is very important. You see, soluble fiber breaks down in the stomach and forms a thick gel or paste. This paste then expands and coats the lining of the stomach for several hours as it is broken down. Because of this, it keeps your stomach full for longer, meaning that you feel full for longer and therefore you don’t crave junk. If you aren’t hungry then you’re less-likely to overeat, and from a weight-loss perspective, the benefits there are pretty obvious.
The bad side of carbs
Now we’ll look at the bad side of carbs, especially regarding a person’s weight. To begin with, when you combine fats with carbs, even if they are both healthy, this can still promote weight gain. You see, the body finds it much easier to breakdown carbohydrates and convert them into glucose sugar for energy, than it does to break down fats. Because of this, when you combine fats with carbs, the body will utilize the carbs as its main source of fuel, meaning that much of the fat is simply stored as body fat for use at a later date. Complex carbohydrates are good for us, but simple carbs generally are not. You see, simple carbs, sometimes known as refined carbs, are full of sugar. When we consume sugar, the pancreas secretes insulin to help regulate blood glucose levels. Insulin basically works by taking sugars in the blood, and shuttling them into our cells to be used as fuel. This sounds as if it would be beneficial, right? After all, the quicker the sugars are used as energy the less likely the body will be to store them as fat. Well, the problem is that it also shuttles everything else from your bloodstream into the cells, including lipids (fats). Now, the cells in your body already have more than enough energy in the form of these simple glucose sugars, so they certainly don’t need any more fuel. Rather than simply wasting these fats, the body tries to hold onto them and stockpile them as an emergency energy source for use at a later date. How? In the form of body fat. Simple carbs are also very high in calories, and as they are sweet they are moreish, so you are likely to consume more of them. The more you consume the more calories you are taking in. Even fruit, which is very good for you as it is full of vitamins and antioxidants, is still rich in simple sugars, meaning it is still high in calories. It doesn’t matter what you eat, whether it be steamed vegetables or cheeseburgers, biology dictates that the second you consume more calories than your body needs to maintain itself, excess calories will be stored as body fat.
So, which is best?
In very simple terms, fats and carbs are both equally beneficial in their own right. We need fats, just as we need carbohydrates. The thing to remember is that there are good varieties of carbohydrates and fats, and there are bad varieties. To keep things very basic, from a weight loss perspective alone, if you are looking to consume fats and carbs, do not consume fats with carbs at the same time, always go with healthy options, and be sure to monitor the amounts of calories you are taking in each day.