Almost every food you eat has carbohydrates. Carbs are an essential part of the diet, and can be found in all kinds of foods that you love—even fruits and vegetables! And yet, while having carbohydrates in your diet is good (most of them contain the dietary fiber you need on a daily basis), it’s important to note which carbs are considered “unhealthy” and why. Simple carbs, also known as refined carbs, are highly-processed and almost always stripped of any nutritional benefit they may have—like that dietary fiber. Which is why there are a lot of benefits of cutting those unhealthy carbs in your diet.
We broke down what happens to your body when you cut unhealthy carbs, and also why it’s still very important to have carbs in your diet. Here are the benefits of cutting unhealthy carbs, and for more healthy eating tips, check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Immediately. Reducing your intake of calorie-dense carbs automatically reduces the number of calories you’re consuming on a daily basis, which forces your body to burn fat stored around your midsection for energy, rather than the sugars it takes from carbohydrates.
Eat This! Tip: Exercise in the morning before you eat breakfast. This forces your body to burn stored fat, instead of the food you’ve eaten earlier in the day. Then when it’s time for breakfast, follow these 7 Healthy Breakfast Habits for a Flat Belly.
It’s not calories that satiate your hunger, it’s nutrients: fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Unfortunately, simple, refined carbs are lacking in all three, even as they fill your body with fast, cheap calories. So no matter how much you eat, your body will go in search of more food. The result: a sluggish, hungrier you — one who’s more likely to dive into the snack drawer.
Eat This! Tip: Start your day with a high-protein, high-fat food like Greek yogurt, eggs scrambled with vegetables, or chia pudding, and you’ll reduce your hunger. Start losing pounds a week by eating any of these 11 Best and Worst Greek Yogurts for Weight Loss!
One of the first things you notice when you replace simple carbs with high-fiber foods is that your belly flattens out—literally within days. The reason: Most Americans only take in 15 of the recommended 25 to 38 grams per day, according to the Institute of Medicine. As a result, the healthy gut microbes that keep us lean have less to munch on, and the unhealthy microbes—which feast on sugar—take over. Those are the little buggers that cause bloating, and make your belly look bigger than it actually is.
“Bumping up fiber can help promote healthy regularity,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
Eat This! Tip: Start with simple swaps that feel natural to you. Trade the white bread for whole-grain or add some beans to tacos and stir-fry. And if you’re hungry between meals, reach for raw nuts. “Nuts are a great source of fiber and healthy fat, which can help fight inflammation in the body and also promote digestion,” Smith adds.
Simple carbs are made of simple sugars, and eating too many can wreak havoc in your body in both the short and long term. The more of these quickly digested carbs you consume, the more insulin your pancreas produces, eventually leading to insulin resistance and possibly type 2 diabetes, according to Smith.
Eat This! Tip: Fiber-rich complex carbs are harder for your body to digest, preventing the blood sugar spikes that cause insulin release. “The lower and more steady we keep blood sugar, the less insulin is released on a consistent basis and the more insulin-sensitive our tissues remain — which is a good thing,” Smith explains. So, cutting back on the simple stuff means you’ll be able to maintain stable blood sugar levels and reduce your risk for diabetes.
Almost every food in the world is healthier than simple carbs—from burgers and steaks to yogurt and even ice cream. In part, that’s because simple carbs lack protein, the building blocks of muscle (and a key contributor to healthy hair, nails, and skin). By filling your body with protein and other nutrients, you’re giving it what it needs to grow without having to find additional calories.
Eat This! Tip: If you typically get hungry between meals, try replacing those vending-machine sweets with high-protein snacks that will fuel your body and give you stable energy for the afternoon ahead, like with these 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss.
Not all carbs are bad, of course—especially these 24 Best Healthy Carbs To Eat For Weight Loss. Your body needs carbohydrates to function properly, and they’re especially important for adequate brain and muscle function. By switching from simple carbs to more long-running fuel—fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and other whole-grain options—you’ll ensure you have a steady flow of energy, and avoid the ups and downs that simple carbs cause. You’ll no longer need to make poor food choices as a way of getting quick energy, and you won’t be dragging through those afternoon hours.
Eat This! Tip: The lowest safe amount of carbohydrates is about 50 grams daily, according to Mayo Clinic; avoid dipping below that amount if you want to avoid major dips in energy. One cup of oatmeal and a half a banana is all it takes to reach that total. So while cutting carbohydrates is good for your overall health, cutting them out completely could have the opposite effect. Here’s What You Should Know Before Cutting Carbs for Weight Loss.