Can you get fat from eating late at night? Should you cut all carbs if you’re serious about losing weight? We turned researchers on these topics help separate myth from fact and set the record straight on healthy eating habits.
Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?
Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients in the body, providing the body with energy and various essential nutrients. However, there is a link between eating too many carbohydrates—refined carbohydrates—and obesity, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. For instance, pople at risk for diabetes need to be especially careful when consuming carbohydrate foods, as carbohydrates have the most direct effect on blood sugar.
So should we just cut back on carbohydrates? No. Eating the right “type” is critical.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy, especially for the brain and nerve system. The brain is about 2 percent of your body weight, but it can consume roughly 20 percent of the energy.
This energy comes mainly from the glucose produced by carbohydrates. If the glucose (blood sugar) in the blood is low, there is not enough energy to supply the brain and the person will become dizzy, irritable, tired, have headaches, lose concentration, or even pass out.
The American Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume 45 percent to 65 percent of our body’s daily calorie needs from carbohydrates. If a person consumes about 2200 calories a day, then there should be 990 to 1430 calories from carbohydrates, which means that 247 to 357 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed.
If carbohydrate intake is not enough, the body will consume fat as energy. This is how the keto diet works. It strictly limits the intake of carbohydrates, promoting energy generation from fat. In the keto diet, the liver uses fatty acids to produce ketones to provide most of the energy for the brain.
The keto diet itself was not actually invented for weight loss. It was invented by Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic in 1924 as an effective treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy in children.
Although the keto diet may help some people lose weight, for some it may also cause health problems. A University of Chicago Hospital article pointed out that there is not enough research on the weight loss effect of the keto diet, and the diet can create the problem of excessive intake of saturated fat, which will increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. The keto diet can also cause low blood pressure, kidney stones, constipation, nutritional deficiencies and other symptoms. And because the diet strictly controls the intake of carbohydrates, it will affect the intake of dietary fiber and micronutrients.
Carbohydrates are a rich source of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Minerals and vitamins maintain normal body growth and development; fiber contributes to intestinal health, reduces serum cholesterol, lowers cardiovascular morbidity, and helps control body weight.
Furthermore, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out that whole grains and high-fiber carbohydrate foods are good for heart health and blood sugar levels.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website recommends consuming good carbohydrates and reducing bad ones.
Good carbohydrate foods include unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes, which provide our bodies with the energy we need, as well as a rich variety of nutrients.
Bad carbohydrates include highly processed or refined foods, such as white bread, pastries, soda, cakes, cookies, candy, etc. These foods have fewer nutrients and high sugar content, which can easily make people become obese and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Are Dietary Supplements Good for Health?
Carol Haggans, a consultant and registered dietitian with the National Institutes of Health, said, “It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take [supplements].”
Supplements can be useful for filling gaps in your diet, she adds, but there are many caveats, and not all supplements are created equal.
Many nutrients, when extracted from food, do not necessarily have the same effect as when they were in the food, and may even cause side effects. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has shown that eating foods rich in antioxidants can be beneficial in preventing chronic diseases; however, taking large doses of antioxidant supplements may increase the risk of diseases such as cancer. Moreover, dietary supplements may interact with certain medications.
More than half of Americans currently take one or more dietary supplements daily or occasionally.
The National Institutes of Health stresses that before taking a supplement, one should understand the chemical composition of the supplement, how it is prepared, how it works in the body, and the amount that can be ingested daily.
Is Eating Late Bad for Weight Loss?
A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating after 8 p.m. was not associated with excess weight or increased energy intake among minors aged 4 to 18.
However, another study showed that people who ate at night (11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.) consumed 514 more calories than those who did not eat at night.
Over time, people who ate at night gained an average of 4.5 kilograms in body weight. The article analyzes that people who eat late at night tend to consume more calories and make unhealthy food choices, and it is these behaviors that lead to weight gain, not the behavior of nighttime eating.
However, eating too late, especially before bedtime, will also affect digestion and increase the burden on the body.
In any case, if you want to lose weight, you need to control the total amount of calories you consume.
The amount of calories needed varies from one demographic to another. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines recommendations: females 19 to 30 years of age need 2000 to 2400 calories; 31-59 year olds need 1800 to 2200 calories; 60 years and above, 1600 to 2000 calories.
Males aged 19-30 need 2400-3000 calories; 31-59 years old, 2200-3000 calories; 60 years old and above, 2000-2600 calories.
And, as referenced in our first point, there are foods—calories—that nourish our bodies and foods that task our bodies.
Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal?
Experts certainly have differing views on this one.
Breakfast is often referred to as the “most important meal of the day,” and for good reason. A healthy breakfast can provide the body with the necessary energy and nutrition, help control weight, improve concentration and memory (the body is replenished with glucose), reduce the risk of disease (people who eat breakfast regularly tend to have a lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes); and people who eat breakfast overall tend to have healthier diets and better eating habits.
University of Aberdeen appetite research professor Alexandra Johnstone said, in an article published by the BBC, that if not eating breakfast and obesity are related, it may be because people who eat breakfast are also more concerned about nutrition and health. They “habitually have health-enhancing behaviours such as not smoking and regular exercise.”
There is also research that shows that those who eat more of their calories earlier in the day are less likely to overload on calories at dinner.
Fruit Contains Sugar That Is Bad For Health
We all know about how sugar is detrimental to health, so some people avoid fruit indiscriminately. In fact, unlike refined sugar, fruits contain less sugar, and they also contain other beneficial ingredients.
Free sugars are monosaccharides (such as glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and beverages, as well as sugars naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Reducing free sugar intake can reduce the risk of tooth decay and obesity. Dr. Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Division of Nutrition for Health and Development, said, “We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay.”
While fruit sugars may not be bad sugars, one common mistake people make is consuming too many servings of fruit, especially if drinking fruit juice, and unknowingly consuming multiples of their daily recommended sugar intake. For instance, the sugar in a bottle of orange juice can be equivalent to that of six oranges.
But fruit in its whole form also contains a large number of other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, which are an important part of a well-rounded diet.