Do carb blockers work for weight loss? Is taking a carb blocking supplement going to help you lose weight and reduce body fat?
Carb blockers are a type of supplement that’s popular with some people who are taking steps to lose weight. They provide natural ingredients that interfere with the body’s ability to digest carbohydrates (carbs).
Arguably the most widely sold carb blocker is Alli – a smaller dosed version on Orlistat.
Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient. Each gram you eat would normally provide your body with four calories. However, if your body cannot process all of the carbs you get from your food, you will not get any of the calories of energy locked inside the undigested carbs. That means you will not be able to use those calories for energy. Nor will you be able to store them as fat.
Carb blockers can have a role to play in weight loss, but they probably offer the most benefit to people who follow a diet that is high in carbs. If you are trying to lose weight, it’s generally a good idea to limit your carb intake instead of trying to limit your body’s digestive capabilities.
One of the biggest problems with carb blockers is they are so open to misuse. Some people try to use them as cheat pills, hoping that using a carb blocker will allow them to go on eating lots of high carb foods, without gaining weight.
After you have finished reading this article, you will know what carb blockers are, how they work, and the pitfalls regarding their use. This will make it easier for you to decide if carb blockers are likely to offer you the level of weight loss support you need.
Table of Contents
Carbohydrates: What You Need to Know
Carbs are one of the three macronutrients that provide the body with energy. The other two macronutrients are protein and fat.
Most foods provide a mix of macronutrients but may be higher in one type than another. For instance, lean chicken breast is high in protein, low in fat, and does not contain any carbs. Doughnuts are high in carbs and fat and provide very little protein.
At the other end of the scale, apples are high in carbs but do not provide any fat or protein.
In addition to one or more macronutrients, all foods provide a selection of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well.
Carbs are divided into two types:
- Simple carbs
- Complex carbs
Simple carbs (sugars) occur naturally in foods such as fruits and milk products. They are also present in processed foods such as desserts, soda, and canned goods.
Complex carbs are found in foods such as rice, pasta, bread, oats, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
Simple carbs are easy to absorb and very good for providing a quick blast of energy. The body takes longer to process complex carbs. This means they release their energy more slowly, making them good for providing a longer-lasting supply of energy.
To put things into perspective, for a diabetic needing to bring their blood sugar up as fast as possible, a Mars Bar would be an excellent choice because it’s loaded with simple carbs. On the other hand, someone about to embark on several hours of intense physical activity would better off choosing a bowl of oatmeal because oats are a good source of complex carbs.
On a molecular level, complex carbs actually consist of many simple carbs that are linked together, forming chains. These links need to be broken down by digestive enzymes before they can be absorbed.
How Do Carb Blockers Work?
Also known as starch blockers, carb blockers contain compounds that inhibit the ability of the enzymes responsible for breaking down complex carbs. However, at best, they only block a percentage of the carbs your food provides.
The blocked carbs pass into the large intestine in an unprocessed state, without being absorbed. They do not release any energy or cause the blood sugar level to rise.
The ingredients in carb blocking supplements provide compounds called amylase inhibitors. They occur naturally in certain foods but the best source is white kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris).
When food enters the digestive organs, each macronutrient is broken down by specific enzymes. Amylase is the enzyme that processes carbs. It’s it has no interaction with protein or fat. [source]
The Role of Carb Blockers (In Weight Loss)
Like appetite suppressants, carb blockers help you to control your calorie intake. However, their potential in this regard is arguably not as good.
By helping you to eat less food without feeling hungry, appetite suppressants allow you to control your overall calorie intake (from food in general). Carb blockers only block a percentage of the calories you would normally get from carbs.
Some diet pills function solely as carb blockers. More often than not, white kidney bean extract is the only active ingredient. Carb blocking compounds are also present in some multi-functional diet pills that aim to provide dieters with a varied level of support.
As with any other type of weight-management option, carb blockers need to be used in conjunction with a low-calorie diet plan. They do not provide an excuse for unhealthy eating.
Unfortunately, some diet pill manufacturers claim their carb blockers allow people to eat all the carbs they want. This is a ridiculous claim that encourages a cheat pill mentality and bad dietary practices. Although, when used sensibly, in conjunction with a healthy diet, carb blockers may help you improve your weight loss results, they are not like one of those Monopoly cards that allow you to get out of jail for free. A low-calorie diet containing foods low in calories is at the heart of every successful weight loss campaign.
How Effective Are Carb Blockers?
Most carb blockers block around 50–65 percent of carb-digesting enzymes. That may sound pretty good but you need to remember that does not mean they will block the absorption of 50–65 percent of the carbs you eat. Data from one study, involving an extremely potent amylase blocker shows this to startling effect.
The researchers were using an amylase inhibitor that suppressed enzyme activity by 96 percent. That’s very impressive but actual carb absorption was only reduced by seven percent.
It’s hard to say why the carb blocking action was less pronounced than the enzyme blocking action. However, it’s possible the remaining active enzymes worked harder to process the carbs over a longer period of time.
Even if you are using one of the best carb blocking supplements, your body may still find ways to compensate. So, again, although carb blockers can help with weight loss, it would be folly to see them as a magic pill.
It’s also important to be aware carb blockers don’t block simple carbs. For many people, the sugars in processed foods and snacks are one of their biggest problems and even the best carb blockers will not help.
Regardless of their limitations, carb blockers may be effective for weight loss. The results of several studies (4 – 12 weeks duration) show the participants taking carb blockers lost 2 – 5.5 lbs more weight than the members of the placebo groups.
The results of one eight-week study, involving 50 obese adults, show a proprietary blend of white kidney bean extract significantly outperformed the placebo. Although the placebo group only lost an average of 1.65 lbs during the study period, the group using the carb blocker lost an average of 3.79 lbs.
Of course, it’s important to remember that’s a weight loss of less than 1/2 lbs a week. That’s undeniably weight loss but it’s traveling in the slow lane.
Carb Blocker Side Effects
Carb blockers cause undigested carbohydrates to pass through the large intestines. Although this is unlikely to present problems for most people, there is a potential for side effects.
When the carbs enter the large intestines in this state, they are fermented by bacteria. The process can cause gas to build up leading to flatulence and gut discomfort or pain.
Carb blockers also have the potential to cause diarrhea but side effects are generally not severe and, if they occur, symptoms should fade and cease as the body adapts to the presence of undigested carbs.
However, diabetics should not use carb-blocking supplements without prior medical advice. By reducing carb absorption they could lower blood sugar levels.
Do Carb Blockers Work Summary
Carb blockers reduce carb absorption by suppressing the activity of the digestive enzyme amylase. By doing this, they can reduce the amount of energy (calories) you receive from your food. When used alongside a low-calorie diet, this may help you to lose more weight than could lose with diet and exercise alone.
In theory, carb blockers offer the most value to people who eat a lot of carbs. However, anyone who is serious about losing weight should be monitoring their calorie intake closely and avoiding eating too much high-carb food.
Some studies suggest carb blockers work but the data also shows the weight loss improvements they provide are less than dramatic. Don’t believe the carb blocker manufacturers who say their products allow you to eat all the carbs you want. Making that mistake is a good way to pile on extra pounds.
If you make the right efforts with diet and exercise, a good carb blocker may offer additional value. However, the best appetite suppressants and multi-functional supplements will offer a lot more.