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Test Your Weight Loss Wisdom

How much do you know about calories and carbs?

4. True or false: Weight loss is faster and more effective on a low-carbohydrate diet.

False. Any diet that drastically cuts calories will result in fast weight loss, but research shows that fast weight loss tends to be followed by fast regain. Weight loss results from eating fewer calories and expending more energy with physical activity. The real test of any diet is whether it helps you keep the weight off permanently.

Following a low-carbohydrate diet generally puts you into a state called "ketosis," which means your body has no carbohydrates to burn for energy, so it burns stored fat or whatever else is available. Ketosis tends to reduce hunger, so often you end up eating a very low-calorie diet. Of course, it's calories that count when you are trying to lose weight. And every fad diet, one way or another, manages to cut calories.

There are some undesirable side effects of a low-carbohydrate lifestyle, including constipation, bad breath, headaches, and potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In the long run, a diet high in fat -- especially saturated fat -- may also increase your risk of heart disease and some cancers. The National Academy of Sciences suggests that everyone should eat a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates each day. Do the math. That comes to 520 carbohydrate calories a day.

5. True or false: Low-carbohydrate foods have fewer calories than other foods.

False. The only way to find out whether a low-carbohydrate product also has fewer calories is to read the label. Many manufacturers are cutting carbohydrates from their products while loading them up with fat -- and without reducing the calories. A calorie is a calorie, whether it's from carbohydrate, protein, or fat.

Beware of terms such as "net carbohydrates," "impact carbohydrates" and "effective carbohydrates." These terms are not defined by the Food and Drug Administration, and are used by food manufacturers to cash in on the current carb phobia. Whatever the manufacturers call it, this is supposedly the amount of carbohydrate that's left after you subtract those carbohydrates said to have a negligible effect -- such as fiber, sugar alcohols, and glycerin. Until the government defines these terms and research supports the assumptions behind them, my opinion is that these are useless words that do little more than confuse consumers. Read labels, and choose foods that are low in sugars but rich in fibers for the healthiest carbohydrates.

Now that you're an expert on carbohydrates and calories, you can better make sense of food labels. Calories, along with fat grams, protein grams, and carbohydrate grams, are listed in the nutrition facts panels of most commercial food products.

When in doubt, I go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's online nutrient database (called the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference). This extensive database allows you to choose the portion size, and provides not only calories but a whole host of nutrients contained in the food.

Most Weight Loss Clinic eating plans will provide at least half of the total calories from carbohydrates. Choose your carbs wisely. Healthy carbohydrates that contain plenty of fiber (2-3 grams per serving) not only aid in digestive health and keep things moving along, but they also fill you up and help keep snack attacks at bay.

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