Nutritionists agree—this one’s a biggie. “When you cut back on carbs, you could lose weight because you’ve cut out a large number of calories from your diet,” adds Vandana Sheth, R.D., a Los Angeles-based dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And while it is true that you’ll notice a couple of pounds drop right off when you go low-carb, that’s really just water weight. In the longer-term, low-carb diets may not be the answer to real weight loss. “Low-carb and no-carb diets have not been shown to be more effective at weight loss than a balanced diet,” says Mendez.
The real problem with carbs is that we often don’t know what a portion should look like, so we eat way too much. Most of us should aim for 130 to 150 grams of carbs per day—with a slice of bread, for example, serving somewhere in the ballpark of 15 to 28 grams. “One typical meal can easily provide half of your daily carb allowance. A large blended coffee drink, for example, could add up to 94 grams of carbs,” says Sheth. Instead, spread carbs throughout the day to have a steady source of energy. That means having a single portion, or about 30 to 45 grams of carbs, per meal: two slices of whole grain bread, one cup of cooked grains or starchy veggies, or one cup of fruit.
Another common pitfall is not balancing carbs with other foods that help you stay satisfied. “We know that carbs have an immediate effect on our blood sugar,” says Sheth, but adding other foods into the mix keeps blood sugar stable. So look at what’s missing from your plate: it should be about half non-starchy veggies (like cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, spinach); one-quarter protein (meat, fish, poultry, soy); and one-quarter starchy carbs. “If you’re not pairing carbs with fat or protein, you won’t feel full,” says Mendez.