What Makes You Fat: Carbs or Calories?

The principle of weight gain is simple. You gain weight from consuming more calories than you burn. Carbs contain calories, but so do the other two types of macronitrients: fats and proteins. If you are trying to lose weight, aim for a balanced-eating plan rather than a diet that forbids certain macronutrients or food groups.

Whole wheat crisp breads topped with ricotta cheese and fruit. (Image: AllAGRI/iStock/Getty Images)

Carbs and Calories

A calorie is a unit of measurement. The number of calories represents the amount of energy that your body will receive from a food or drink. Weight gain occurs when you consume more calories than your body can use. A carbohydrate is a type of macronutrient. While most carbohydrates occur naturally in plant-based foods, some processed foods contain added carbohydrates in the form of sugar or starch. Calories and carbohydrates are essential for the proper functioning of your body.

Your Daily Requirements

Adult women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day, and adult men need 2,000 to 3,200, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Your needs will vary based on your age and activity level. The guidelines also state that carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should have about 225 to 325 g of carbohydrates each day.

Healthy Carbs

Carbohydrates provide essential nutrients, and they are your body’s main energy source. The healthiest types of carbs are complex carbs such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. These foods contain fiber, which can help you feel full while consuming fewer calories. Eating complex carbs as part of a balanced diet can also reduce your risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Regular consumption of processed carbohydrates, including sugary drinks, candy, pastries, white bread and white rice, can increase your risk.

Diet for Weight Control

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that low-carb diets are no more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets. The most important factor for weight loss is taking in fewer calories than you expend. If you cut 500 calories each day, through diet and exercise, you can lose about a pound a week. The best diet-and-exercise program is one that works for you. Choose a plan that you will stick with and enjoy.

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