There’s a lot of buzz about low carb diets.
Some say they are amazing for weight loss. Others warn that they can increase your risk of heart disease.
So, what is it?
Low-carb diets may help some people lose weight and possibly help manage their blood sugar levels. And they may do these (slightly) better than low-fat diets.
But, how do you know if a low-carb diet is for you?
Let me help you figure out what a low-carb diet is and whether it’s something you should consider or not…
What are “carbs” (and are they bad)?
No, carbs aren’t necessarily bad.
Carb is short for carbohydrates. Carbs are one of the three main macronutrients in the diet. The term macro means large… So carbs are large components of your diet. Just like protein and fat, carbs give us the energy we need for optimal health. Most foods contain two if not all three of these essential macronutrients.
Carbs can definitely be part of a healthy diet. They’re found in many foods that are full of other nutrients like essential vitamins and minerals. Just like fats and proteins, carbs can also be found in nutrient-poor low-quality foods. It is recommended that you get most of your carbs from whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables other than refined grains. In addition to calories, whole foods provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Carbs have calories, just like protein and fat. Eating or drinking too many carbs can add to your daily calorie count—especially if they’re not foods that are rich in other nutrients.
The effect of different carbs on your health
Carbs come in three different shapes and sizes:
- Sugars which are found in juices, dairy, sodas, desserts, etc. are the smallest and are the main type of “fuel” used by your body for energy.
- Starches are found in potatoes, grains, legumes, etc. and are broken down into sugars which then go on to be used for energy.
- Fiber which is found in legumes, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, etc. provides bulk that helps us feel full and feeds our friendly gut microbes. — Did you get that??? Fiber helps you feel full! So you won’t keep eating those extra calories.
Different types of carbs have slightly different effects on your body. For example, sugars are, not surprisingly, the least healthy form of carbs. When you eat sugars they’re absorbed quickly and can cause a “spike” in your blood sugar level. When your body lowers your blood sugar levels a short time later, you may become hungry again. It creates a vicious cycle. Sugar also tends to be found in highly processed and less nutritious foods. People who tend to eat more sugars have a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and dental cavities.
When you eat carbs as starches it takes a bit more time for them to be broken down into sugars so their effect on your blood sugar level is slower and lasts longer. This is a better option.
Fibers, on the other hand, aren’t digested. Fiber helps us feel full and contributes to a healthy gut by feeding our friendly gut bacteria. People who eat a lot of fiber tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and digestive issues.
Possible benefits of low-carb diets
Low-carb diets may help some people better manage their diabetes, high blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. They may also help improve cholesterol and blood lipids, too.
These may occur not specifically from eating fewer carbs, but rather because of the quality of food choices when eating a low-carb diet as well as from losing some weight.
What does a low-carb diet look like?
Low-carb diets emphasize eating more of the other two macronutrients: protein and fat. This means more meat, poultry, fish and eggs. It also includes nonstarchy vegetables.
The amount of carb-rich foods would be reduced, although not eliminated. This means eating less sweets, grains (e.g., bread, pasta), fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
How low the carbs go isn’t specifically defined. A typical low-carb diet would recommend no more than 50-150 grams of carbs per day (that’s 200-600 calories per day). This is in contrast with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommends about 225 grams (900 calories) each day from carbs.
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Should you consider a low-carb diet?
Numerous studies show the overall quality of a food or diet is more important than focusing on just one nutrient, like carbs.
There are a few things to consider.
First, know that if you’re trying to lose weight, low-carb is one of many diets that can help you—at least for a short time. It may take experimentation to find the right one for your genes, metabolism, and lifestyle. It’s very difficult to stick to a diet for the long-term, so finding one that works for you is key. If you need assistance with this, contact me to set up an appointment. I definitely can help you with this!
Be careful when you restrict any major food group, like carbs, for example. This is because you may be restricting essential vitamins or minerals. This can lead to deficiencies and long-term concerns like bone loss, gut problems, and chronic diseases.
Because low-carb diets are restrictive and may not provide all necessary nutrients, this diet isn’t recommended for adolescents or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Most of the research on low-carb diets are short-term, so we don’t know all the possible health effects for eating like this over the course of many months or years. It’s possible that by eating too much animal protein you may increase your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Tips for low-carb diets
- Remember, there are healthy and not-so-healthy low-carb foods. When replacing carbs with proteins and fats, be sure to choose ones that have quality proteins and fats and a lot of essential vitamins and minerals.
- As for proteins, it’s best to get them from poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and beans, and less from red meats like pork and beef. Animal protein is okay, but try and include them every so often and not daily.
- When it comes to fats, focus on foods rich in omega-3s and unsaturated fats and choose fewer fats that are saturated and hydrogenated.
- Any drastic changes to your diet may cause you to experience headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, skin rashes, and digestive issues. Keep an eye out for these and consult an expert if you experience them. Contact me to discuss your issues.
- If you restrict carbs too much you can change your body’s metabolism and put it into ketosis. This is because your body uses sugar as its main energy source, so when you don’t get a minimum amount of carbs, your body’s metabolism changes to start using fat as its energy source.
- If you end up craving carbs, experiencing gut issues or other bothersome symptoms, or simply don’t enjoy eating anymore, a low-carb diet may not be the best one for you.
According to Harvard Health, “The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle. People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box).”
So, is a low carb diet for you? It’s not right for everyone. I am here to help you determine what will optimize your health and well being. Changing your diet to reach health goals is something I specialize in. If you are considering starting a low-carb diet, book an appointment with me to see if my services can help you.
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