8 Benefits of Eating Carbohydrates

Christian Coulson
Updated: June 14, 2020
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I often tell people I’m on a low-carb diet. But in reality, I just eat pizza while lying on the floor and watching Netflix.

When losing weight, many people focus on removing carbohydrates from their diet, however, including high-quality carbohydrate sources surely has its benefits.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

8 Benefits of Eating Carbohydrates

1. Regulates Your Mood

Carbohydrates can improve your mood by helping the brain synthesize more serotonin – a neurotransmitter in charge of your mood.

The more serotonin your brain synthesizes, the more your mood improves.

This can be specially useful if you often feel stressed by weight loss.

The key here is the type of carbohydrates you choose, so make sure to stick to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes instead of processed carbs and sugars. 

2. Increase Energy Levels

Another one of the great benefits of eating carbohydrates is the increase in energy levels.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, especially during high-intensity workouts.

Carbs are broken down into glucose (sugar), which is then used by the body to produce ATP (energy).

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3. Increases Workout Performance

Glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrates), is the preferred fuel for muscular activity.

Low glycogen levels lead to fatigue and tiredness during long workouts. This makes carbohydrates important for performance. (1)

4. Great Source of Fiber

Adequate fiber intake is often overlooked; however, consuming enough fiber is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and be able to better absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.

Fiber is also digested slowly, which will help you stay full for longer and reduce your chances of overeating or snacking.

If you’re someone who definitely needs to snack, try going for low-carb snacks instead of sugary ones.

5. Better Metabolism

Proper carbohydrate intake helps support normal thyroid and metabolic function.

Different factors can affect your thyroid response.

For instance, consuming fewer calories than you burn and losing weight reduces thyroid function to slow its metabolism.

Your body does this in order to preserve energy.

What’s interesting is that a ketogenic diet is able to reduce thyroid function even when eating maintenance calories. (2)

Here are a few tips on how to boost your metabolism if you’d like to check them out.

6. Better Quality Sleep

Slow digesting carbohydrates contribute to restful sleep.

This study (3) showed that teens sleeping more than 8 hours per night consumed more carbohydrates than those who slept fewer than 8 hours.

This other study (4), however, found that consuming high-glycemic-index carbs (fast-digesting carbs) 4 hours before going to bed can make it a little difficult to fall asleep. 

The key here is to focus on slow-digesting carbs full of nutrients instead of processed and sugary carbs (high-glycemic index).

7. Promotes Heart Health

Eating more carbohydrates rich in fiber can help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) while increasing your HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol).

Some foods high in fiber include rolled oats, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

8. Better Brain Performance

The brain also uses glucose as its primary source of energy.

This study (5) showed that when dieters removed carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduced calories, but kept carbohydrates.

Once they added carbohydrates again, their brain performance went back to normal.

This lead researchers to believe that low-carb diets can negatively affect thinking and cognition.

It’s important to note that this comparison was against a low-carb diet and not a keto diet.

Keto diets focus on making your body enter a state of ketosis, where it utilizes ketones as fuel instead of glucose.

A few studies (6) show that ketones can also improve brain performance.

The Undeniable Challenges of Low-Carb Diets

Before we start, I want you to know that the best diet is the diet you can stick to forever.

We all have different genetics, metabolisms, likes, and dislikes, and just because a diet worked for your neighbor doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.

Every diet surely has its challenges, and low-carb diets are no exception.

1. Might Be Challenging to Get Enough Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be digested by the body. Instead, it passes through your digestive tract carrying a lot of bad stuff out with it. (2)

Fiber helps you maintain a healthy gut, better absorb the nutrients, and keep you full for longer.

Since this nutrient is mostly found in foods high in carbs, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, getting enough fiber can be challenging. 

Studies (3, 4) show that insufficient fiber intake could increase your risk of constipation.

The recommended minimum of daily fiber intake is 25 – 30 grams and the maximum is 75 grams.

If you’re in a low-carb diet, try getting enough fiber by eating non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar foods, such as:

  • avocados
  • chia seeds
  • almonds
  • flaxseed
  • collard greens
  • cauliflower
  • coconut
  • blackberries
  • raspberries

2. May Affect Your Good Gut Bacteria

Good gut bacteria are microorganisms that live in your digestive tract.

Researchers (5, 6) suggest that they may play an important role in digestion, immune function, disease prevention, and mental health.

This study (7) done in children with epilepsy showed damaged gut microbiome composition after 3 months in the Keto diet, compared to those who weren’t.

However, it seems that the Keto diet affects both good and bad gut bacteria.

This other study (8) showed a reduction in proteobacteria – a bad bacteria that includes several pathogens like Salmonella and Vibrio.

Here’s an article I wrote about how to use probiotics for weight loss if you’d like to explore more.

3. Not Sustainable for Some People

One of the common reasons many people fail to stick to a low-carb diet is that they enjoy carbohydrates.

It can be mentally exhausting to constantly resist to eat a certain type of food, that’s why restrictive diets tend to fail.

Not surprisingly, depriving yourself of foods you enjoy increases your cravings for the foods you’re trying to avoid, which can lead to overeating and weight gain.

It can also create an unhealthy relationship with food by making you start labeling foods as “good” or “bad.”

That’s why it’s important that before you start any diet, you make sure that it’s something that you see yourself doing in the long-term and fits your likes and dislikes.

Creating a meal plan that takes into account your metabolism, genetics, schedule, likes, and dislikes is the key to keep the weight off.

Keto Case Study

Again, sustainability depends on the person.

There’s a guy that goes to my gym who has been on keto for over 3 years and looks supernaturally amazing, he has no problem living with little to no carbohydrates.

For him, keto is completely sustainable.

4. Carbs are Your Body’s Preferred Source of Energy

While carbohydrates are a non-essential nutrient (you can survive without them), they’re still your body’s preferred source of energy, especially during high-intensity training.

Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) to produce ATP (energy).

Studies (9) have shown that low levels of glycogen (the stored form of carbs) lead to tiredness and fatigue during long workouts, which hinders performance.

While you can surely build muscle and exercise during low-carb diets, it isn’t optimal.

Therefore, if your goal is to optimize muscle building, a low-carb diet might not be the most effective approach.

Is a Low-Carb Diet For You?

People often jump on low-carb diets because these diets claim to help lower bad cholesterol levels, lose weight, and improve insulin sensitivity.

While this is completely true, it’s not necessarily because you removed carbs, but because you’re in a calorie deficit.

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn; for some people, low-carb diets are an easier way to achieve this.

When you are in a calorie deficit and start losing weight, your bad cholesterol levels will decrease and your insulin sensitivity will improve.

This study done by Arizona State University (1) showed that when calories and protein were equated, both the keto diet and non-keto were equally effective in reducing fat and insulin resistance.

So if your goal is to lower bad cholesterol, lose weight, and improve insulin sensitivity but you love carbs, there’s no need to restrict yourself to a low-carb diet.

However, if you feel it’ll be easier for you to stick to your goals on a low-carb diet, or want some of the other potential benefits of a keto diet, then give it a try.

Again, just make sure to start a program that you see yourself doing in the long-term. If you’re considering a low-carb or keto diet, here are some challenges you may encounter.

Do you know any other benefits of eating carbohydrates? If so, share them in the comments section below!

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