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Can You Eat Refined Carbohydrates on a Weight Loss Diet?

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You’ve decided that you want to shred body fat and make some positive changes to your body. You’ve started at the gym, you’re upping your daily physical activity levels and all that’s left to nail is your diet.

But what exactly are the best food and nutrient choices to accelerate your progress – and which foods should you avoid in order to reach your goals?

In this article we take a look at refined carbohydrates. Will they speed up your shred? Or will they slow down your fat stripping?

Let’s take a look…

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are a food energy source found in plants. They are the starches and sugars produced during photosynthesis and provide you with 4 kcal per gram.

As a source of energy, carbs should account for between 50 and 60% of your overall calorie intake, although this is highly variable and many people have less than this and still function optimally.

Carbs are an immediate source of energy A sucrose sugar molecule on white background

For the most part (unless you have a metabolic illness or disorder), you break carbs down via digestion into their smallest parts – glucose.

This glucose is then transported to various cells in your body where it can either be used straight away as energy or stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen (which is simply stored glucose).

Although we can get energy from fats and proteins, our body prefers to use carbs as the primary energy source because its quite easy to break it down into energy to then be used to exercise, move, think and live.


Not All Carbs Are Made The Same

There’s a little bit of science here but bear with it as it’ll really improve the way in which you understand how carbs work.

Carbohydrates are simply compounds made up of saccharides – sugar molecules.

Some types of carbs are called monosaccharides as they only contain one saccharide molecule. These include glucose and fructose. Both of these are called ‘monomers’ because they can bond with other molecules like glue.

Disaccharides are types of carb that contain two saccharide molecules. The most common of these is sucrose which contains a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule stuck together. You’ll know sucrose by its more common name – table sugar.

Finally there’s polysaccharides. These are long chains of saccharides stuck together like a chain and made up of lots of individual monosaccharides. Examples of polysaccharides include starch, glycogen and cellulose (fiber).

Simple and Complex Carbs?

Carbs come in two main forms – simple and complex. And this is purely based on the number of saccharides it provides and the impact it has on your blood sugar.

Complex carbs

These types of carbohydrates are made up of polysaccharides. And becuase they contain so many individual sugar molecules it take your body a long time to break down, digest and absorb them.

Examples of complex carb foods include starchy and fiber-rich sources of carbs such as beans, grains, vegetables and potatoes. 

Because of the complex saccharide structure, complex carbs get digested and absorbed into the bloodstream slowly. This means that they don’t spike your blood sugar levels therefore they remain more constant.

They keep you feeling fuller for longer so are good for calorie-controlled diets.

Simple carbs

This type of carb source provides you with either mono- or disaccharides. Remember, these are either individual molecules of sugar or two joined together.

Examples of simple carb foods include some fruits, milk products, soda and candy. Desserts, sweets, pastries and table sugar are also simple. 

Because they are only ‘simple’ molecules, they can be broken down and digested easily. And because they can be absorbed quickly they tend to increase your blood sugar levels rapidly. This means you can eat lots of simple carbs and not feel ‘full’. They aren’t a great choice to eat all of the time if you’re on a weight loss diet as you can easily overeat them.

A table full of different types of carbohydrates. Bananas, grains, potatoes

What Are Refined Carbohydrates?

Refined carbohydrates are carb foods that have gone through a manufacturing process. This typically involves milling or chemical bleaching and is often done to make a carb source:

  • Less bulky
  • Softer
  • More palatable – some people prefer the taste and texture

Refined carbs are often lower in vitamins, minerals, fiber and overall nutrient density because of these processes. Sometimes though, these nutrients are added back into the food after the refining process – you’ll see it as enriched or fortified on the label if they are.

Examples of refined carbs include

  • White bread, pasta and rice
  • Cakes, donuts, muffins, cookies and numerous baked desserts
  • Chips, crackers and rice snacks
  • Waffles
  • Pizza dough, hot dog buns and burger buns

Refined carbs are more often than not simple sugars or involve taking a complex carb and stripping some of its structure away, meaning it breaks down quicker.

A close up picture of a man holding a pink glazed donut

Can You Still Lose Weight Eating Refined Carbohydrates?

Losing weight comes down to one simple equation – energy balance.

When you take in more calories then your body needs, it’ll store the excess as fat. So if you eat endless amounts of carbohydrate your body will store the extra calories as fat once it has enough glycogen in your liver and muscles. This is called a calorie surplus and will cause weight gain.

But eat less calories than you need and your body breaks into your fat cells and uses the extra energy to make up the difference. The result is you lose fat from your cells and ultimately your body ft goes down.

This is called a calorie deficit and is the key to losing weight. 

So to lose weight you can eat as many refined carbs as you want – as long as it doesn’t go above your total calories for the day.

And if you’re unsure what your calorie intake should be, check out out Instant Knockout Calorie Calculator here…

It’s probably not the healthiest way to lose weight though

Losing weight isn’t the same as optimizing your body composition. To lose fat and maintain lean muscle mass you need to focus on the right nutrients, not just calorie intake.

Carbs provide fiber, vitamins and minerals that support your health, not just your weight on the scales. A diet high in refined carbs typically means a diet low in protein, vegetables and fat loss nutrients.

If you eat lots of refined carb you’re more than likely sacrificing healthier options. Even if you aim to choose enriched or fortified options, you’re still not getting the right amount of nutrition to optimize your fat loss.

Use refined carbs occasionally to ramp up your weight loss progress

But if you want to lose weight successfully don’t eliminate refined carbs altogether!

To successfully shred fat you need to stick to your diet – adherence is key.

That means choosing something that balances a calorie deficit with foods that allow you to treat yourself every now and then.

And research tells us that if your diet is too restrictive (for example if you avoid your favorite foods altogether) you’re much less likely to succeed.

So if your go-to treat food is ice cream, candy or a chocolate fudge sundae then make sure you add those to your diet every now and then – just track the calories of your treat and take them off your daily intake elsewhere.

By doing so you can treat yourself which helps with mood and help to improve your diet adherence too by not feeling restricted with food choices.

Young red-haired woman eating a plate of vegetables sat at a dining table


Carbohydrates are a type of plant-derived food that is classified by its molecular structure. Refined carbs are typically made up of short-chain saccharides and have gone through manufacturing process, thus being low in nutrients and high in sugar.

But refined carbs can form part of a weight loss diet if they are used cleverly.

Treating yourself to your favorite foods every now and then helps with diet adherence – but you must keep track your calories if you want to optimize your calorie deficit and move quicker towards your goals.

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