While plenty of celebrities have sworn off carbohydrates, Carrie Underwood freely admits that she loves them — just not at night.
The 32-year-old singer says in a new interview with Shape that avoiding carbs at night is one of her secrets to keeping her enviable figure.
“I’m vegan and I love bread, but recently, I started making dinner a breadless meal,” she told the magazine. “I’ll have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and I’ll make a sandwich on Ezekiel bread for lunch, but in the evening I’ll have protein and vegetables and no bread. When I wake up, my belly is flat!”
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She might be on to something, certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group, tells Yahoo Health. “Generally, it is best to go heavier on the carbs around the times of the day activity levels are higher,” she says. “For most people, that’s during the day.”
Your body is more likely to store the carbs as fat verses burning it off as fuel when you eat them at night — especially right before bed, she explains. The exception: People who exercise intensely in the evening, since they’ll need more carbs for energy and recovery.
But New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health that we don’t all need to swear off carbs at dinnertime. Why? Everyone processes carbs differently.
“Some people find they feel better when they avoid carbs (or certain types of carbs) at certain meals, but different individuals have different needs,” she says, adding that she recommends spacing out your carb intake to keep your energy level stable.
Public opinion on carbohydrates has been mixed. While the 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommends that we consume up to 65 percent of our calories from carbohydrates, many swear a low-carb diet is ideal for weight loss.
Research has supported carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat whole grains have lower body fat than those who eat refined grains (white pasta and bread, crackers, and many cereals). And a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who ate whole grains (along with vegetables, fruits, and yogurt) gained less weight over 20 years than those who didn’t.
Eating carbs in the evening may actually be good for you, within reason. A study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases in 2012 found that people with a BMI above 30 who ate dinners heavy in carbohydrates lost an average of six more pounds than those who ate carbs throughout the day.
But the type of carbs you eat at night matters, Moskovitz says. She recommends limiting your portions and choosing lower glycemic, more high-fiber carbohydrates like vegetables, beans, sweet potatoes, and some fruits to keep your blood sugar levels steady (and therefore make you feel fuller, longer).
“It is better to avoid large portions of refined carbs, such as a big bowl of white flour pasta, potato chips, sweets, or other snack-y foods, as it gets closer and closer to bed time,” she says. “Not only can these types of foods be high in empty calories, sugars, and fats, but they can have a negative impact on blood sugars and inflammation.”
Eating too many refined carbs at night won’t have an immediate impact on your weight, but Moskovitz says it can cause bloating and water retention, which may explain why it helps Underwood wake up with a flat stomach.
Here’s how it works: After carbohydrates are digested, they break down into glucose, which travels through the blood stream. If you’re sleeping, the glucose is then transported to storage where it binds with water molecules to become glycogen.
The more carbs that are stored, the more water is absorbed. As a result, you may experience bloating and swelling. “Many carbohydrates do not break down so easily in the stomach and thus cause a lot of trapped air in the GI tract which can contribute even more bloating in the abdomen,” Moskovitz says.
Both experts stress that you don’t have to give up all carbs at night — you just need to be smart about the ones you choose.