Cutting Carbs or Calories? What is the Right Choice?
-This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease. It is an informational article, if you are concerned, please see your primary doctor.
We have another age-old debate going on here, like Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
Boxers or Briefs?
The Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
Carbs vs Calories, which one can help me reach my weight loss goals sooner?
There may not be one choice that is completely better than the other, but one has to be better, right?
As a Family medicine physician, I have to put on the hat as dietician by having to give weight loss advice almost every day to my patients. I have done research into both literature and fad trends. I also have a weight loss journey of myself where I started at 300lbs where I experimented with a diet modification around both.
My patients are always picking my brain about whether they should watch their carbohydrates or just cut calories all together.
Just like my patients, I will give you valid arguments for each along with a list of pros and cons.
Carb Cutting Pros and Cons
Pros: Very effective in short-term weight loss, many diets available based around carbohydrate control, reducing your risk for diabetes, lowers appetite
Cons: Unsustainable for long-term success, lack of fiber rich foods, harder to find foods on the go that are carb friendly
The Trick to Cutting Carbs
Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram which the same as protein (4 calories) and less than fat (9 calories per gram). They are also the very first type of macromolecule (fats and proteins) that our body uses for fuel because they are simplest in terms of their chemical structure.
Only when carbohydrates have been used up by the body, then do we start to burn fats for fuel. So the trick of any carbohydrate cutting based diet like Paleo or Atkins is to eat enough low carbohydrate food so your ALL body's stores of carbs are used up. Then we are put into lipolysis or fat burning mode.
Here is the KEY: Not all carbohydrates are created equal. The carbohydrates from crappier sources like cookies, sodas, pizza, and chips are simple carbs. If our body does not use them for fuel immediately, then they will be stored as fat (the main unit of energy storage in our bodies). These are simple because they are all sugar and no fiber.
Complex carbs on the other hand have less sugar and more fiber. Fiber is the key component of carbs that people forget. Fiber not only helps you feel full so you are not constantly snacking on whatever you see in site, it is also promotes lower blood sugars and better digestive health.
Fiber slows down the amount of sugar our gut absorbs acting like a sugar sponge.
The low carb diets you want to get on board with are the ones that emphasize REDUCING SIMPLE CARBS and INCREASING COMPLEX CARBS.
Coincidentally, complex carbs like these are all lower in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats compared to said cookies, chips, or anything that tastes too sweet and delicious.
Best Complex Carb Foods to Add to Your Diet
- Legumes (Most Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils)
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Multigrain Cereals (Oats, Barley, Rye)
- Whole Grain Breads
- Sweet Potatoes (NOT WHITE)
- Most Vegetables (Peppers, Zucchini, Kale)
Simple Carb Foods to Avoid
- Any fruit flavored juice or soda*** The first and easiest thing to replace from your diet, DRINK WATER PEOPLE.
- White Bread
- White Flour
- Baked Goods (Cookies, Cupcakes, Pies)
Calorie Cutting Pros and Cons
Pros: Easy to keep track of calories, many different options for lower calorie foods
Cons: Can lead to little energy, cutting to many calories can slow down your metabolism
The Trick to Cutting Calories
If you spend more money than you make, you will be broke over time.
If you spend less money than you make, you will be richer over time.
The same is true with calories. If you are eating more calories than your body demands, you will be calorie rich and fatter.
If you are burning more calories than you are consuming, you will be calorie poor and skinnier.
How many calories a day should I eat, Dr. Bram?
The consensus is 2200-2400, but literature has shown that this number cannot be applied to everyone.
For instance, you think the old lady who is retired needs as many calories as the 27 yr old football player?
Well no…… Do you think you need to be drinking Gatorade like Aaron Rodgers if you are just playing armchair quarterback?
I believe everyone can start at 2000 but add more calories if: 1) you are man 2) moderately active by working out 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes 3) have more muscle than the average person 4) if you have a larger frame than average 5) have a job that requires more than just sitting at a desk.
For instance, I am a 6'0 220 pounds but I have a muscular frame (not all muscle, still a lil bit jiggly). So I have discovered after tinkering with my diet that I need about 3,000 calories to maintain my weight.
HERE IS THE KEY: You must reduce your calorie consumption by 500 calories a day in order to burn one pound of fat in a week (3,500 calories).
The trick is skipping that one midnight snack, that 24 oz Mountain Dew, or resisting the urge to go to the vending machine.
DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYONE OF THESE TABLOID TITLES OF SOMEONE CLAIMING TO LOSE 21 LBS IN 8 DAYS. THE ONLY THING THAT DOES WEIGHT LOSS THAT FAST IF CANCER.
What you need to do is switch from high calorie foods to low calorie foods (yes that includes making better decisions on which type of carbs you are eating). Also, it is CRUCIAL to eat cleaner sources of proteins and fats.
The unhealthy ones are more likely to be stored as bad fat (LDL) that not only cause your belly to get bigger but can cause damage to your blood vessels called atherosclerosis. This will lead to heart disease, heat attacks, and strokes later in life.
Eating foods with good fats like omega-3 and unsaturated fats promote our body to actually GET RID OF FAT! I know, so along with eating less calories we are helping our bodies get rid of the fat we already have.
Clean Sources of Fat/Protein (Low in Calories)
- Chicken (without the skin)
- Grass Fed Steak
Dirtier Sources of Fat/Protein (High in Calories)
- Anything Fried (Fried Chicken, French Fries, Donuts)
- Ground Beef
- Ice Cream
- Non- Dark Chocolate
- Enter your text here...
What is the Final Answer? Calories or Carbs
I am a stern believer is that whatever you put into your body is what you get out.
CALORIES are far more important, watching your calorie intake you will naturally choose carbs with more fiber and less sugar along with cleaner sources of fat and proteins. This is my humble medical opinion, if you have any questions feel free to contact me so we can have a discussion.
Bio: Christian Bramwell, MD uses his own weight loss story as teaching for people struggling with their own weight through blogging, teaching, and writing. His mission in life is to promote health and education, that is why he has chosen to be a family physician and found his own nonprofit Project RAK based on education and empowerment.