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Why Do Carbohydrates Make You Gain Weight?

author image Melodie Anne
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.
Why Do Carbohydrates Make You Gain Weight?
Some of those extra pounds are probably from water weight. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Don’t think of carbohydrates as your rival. They are a big fuel source in your body, after all. But carbohydrates are known to increase weight gain in some cases. Carbs can make you gain water weight and even fat, although as long as you’re consuming the right amounts and types -- and sticking to your daily calorie allowance -- this shouldn’t be a major issue.

Water Retention

After your body converts carbs into glucose, any leftover fuel gets converted into a polysaccharide carbohydrate called glycogen. Your liver and muscles store glycogen as energy and quickly turn it back into glucose as needed. The issue is that glycogen tends to make muscle tissues hold on to extra water, ultimately making the number on the scale go up. This is why when you severely cut back on carbs, you might lose weight rather quickly. You’re just using up all of your glycogen storage, forcing your body to release extra water weight.

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Insulin Response

With the exception of fiber, all carbohydrates turn into glucose eventually. When glucose disperses into your blood, your pancreas automatically excretes the hormone insulin -- unless you’re diabetic and have to inject it yourself. Insulin helps glucose get turned into glycogen, but you only have room to store so much. Once your glycogen stores are full, the extra converted carbs get stored as fat, making you possibly gain weight over time.

Poor Carb Choices

The difference between starch and sugar digestion and thus satiety could make you eat more, causing weight gain. Sugars from junk foods digest fast, giving you a sugar rush. You may feel hungry again not long after scarfing down something sweet. Sugar from fruits, grains and vegetables digests similarly, although these foods also have fiber. Ultimately fiber, especially soluble fiber, slows down sugar absorption, lessening peaking glucose levels. Alternatively, starch from vegetables and grains takes longer to convert into glucose since it’s made up of multiple bonded strands. When your sugar levels stabilize, your appetite should, too, minimizing binge eating.

Optimal Carb Intakes

You need to leave enough room in your diet for protein and fat, rather than just filling up on carbs. Stick to the carbohydrate recommendations to help prevent weight gain sometimes associated with carbohydrates. You shouldn’t have more than 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day for a 2,000-calorie diet. This amount falls within the carbohydrate recommendations of 45 to 65 percent of calories, as suggested in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Focus on whole grains, fresh fruits, beans, legumes and vegetables to help you get a healthy dose of slow-digesting starch carbohydrates, as well as fiber.

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