Low carb diets have been around now for years. The most popular diet way back when was probably the Atkins Diet! Some women SWORE by it while others found they were exhausted and miserable!
Fast forward to more recent years and we are hearing all about going low carb again in the Keto Diet! Again, keto followers tend to be avid fans but on the other end of the spectrum there are people that believe it isn't natural and could potentially be dangerous.
So what do you think? Low carb? No carb? Low fat? No fat? The age old questions just never seem to get answered! And women are STILL running around in circles trying to get clarity on what REALLY works for natural, sustainable fat loss!
Well let me try and give you a little clarity from a Nutritionist's perspective.....
First, we need to be clear on what "low carb" actually means.
A carb, or carbohydrate, is one of our three main macro-nutrients. Carbs, along with protein and fat, are needed for optimal health in quantities larger than vitamins and minerals which are micro-nutrients.
There are three main types of carbohydrates:
Sugars are the smallest (molecule) carb. There are many different kinds of sugars, beyond the well-known table sugar (sucrose) or fruit sugar (fructose).
Starches are longer chains of many sugars bound together. Starches are broken down by our digestive enzymes into sugars. These sugars are then absorbed and metabolized in much the same way as if we ate sugar itself.
Fibre, on the other hand, is also a long chain of sugars, but these are not broken down by our digestive enzymes. Fibre passes through our system, feeds our friendly gut bacteria, and then takes food waste out the other end. Not to mention, fibre is ESSENTIAL to help balance our blood-sugar levels which is the KEY to getting those carb cravings under control!
Because fibre isn't digested like sugars and starches, it's often excluded from the carb calculation. You may have heard the term "net carbs". This simply means the total number of carbs in a food MINUS their fibre content. So in essence, if a food contains fibre, it will lower the overall grams of carbs in that food which means it will break down into sugar slower than it would if there was no fibre content.
Now we know what a carb IS, it's important to understand how our body MANAGES the different types of carbs we eat.
When we eat carbs, our body absorbs the broken down sugar into our blood, thus raising our blood sugar. Depending on how high and fast our blood sugar rises, our body may release insulin to tell our cells to absorb that sugar out of our blood and use it as energy now or store it for later.
This is part of the theory as to why eating low carb diets may help with weight loss - by preventing the release of insulin, thus preventing the storage of excess calories.
But, our bodies are a bit more complicated than that!
A few studies recently put low carb diets head-to-head against low-fat diets to analyse the weight loss results of both.
Guess what they found?
1 - There isn't one universal definition of low carb (see the next section below).
2 - It's more difficult for people to stick to low carb diets than low-fat diets.
3 - Both diets work for some people, and neither one is overwhelmingly better for weight loss than the other.
4 - The number of calories people eat is still considered a huge factor when it comes to weight loss success - more than whether the calories are from carbs or fat.
So how do you know if what you are eating is in fact "low-carb" if there is no single definition?
The average American eats about 300g of carbs per day. Some people consider eating under 250 g of carbs per day to be the first threshold of a low carb diet. That's really not that low in carbs. It's more "lower carb" rather than "low carb".
Now if you're new to cutting carbs, a drop from 300g to 250g per day would be an easier change to maintain and a good start. However, better weight loss results tend to be seen in peole who eat a diet with less than 150g of carbs per day. So this may be a better goal to target if you are looking to go "low carb".
Now with most things, you can always overdo it and potentially put yourself at risk of health issues. On the extreme side, eating less than 50 g of carbs per day is considered to be "very low carb" and this tends to fall under the preferred ketogenic diet range by health professionals.
Eating so few carbs can put your body into a ketogenic state called "ketosis". This means the body's primary energy source is from "ketones", otherwise known as stored fat for simplicity, rather than from glucose found in the bloodstream.
Now, first thoughts are this can't be a bad thing can it? Surely not! If we need to get rid of stored fat in order to lose weight, then being in "ketosis" all of the time must be the ideal state right? Well....nothing is ever that straight forward....
You see, eating this way to ensure a constant state of ketosis can be extremely difficult for many people to maintain. Especially during the first few weeks while the body learns to adapt to using fat as it's main fuel source. So you have to ask yourself, is fast weight loss really worth feeling restricted and exhausted throughout the process? Or would it be wiser to lose weight using a more natural method that may take a little longer but allows you to still enjoy some of your favourite foods without breaking the rules?
Here lies my Nutritionist view.....
Our body can do quite well in a state of ketosis from time to time, but I believe it is important to always keep the body guessing! From time to time, I believe it is necessary for the body to be able to tap into a quicker energy source (glucose) which would happen if we increase our carb intake slightly from time to time.
Plus, because carbs are the brain's primary source of fuel, I believe it is important that we don't restrict carbs too much otherwise you may struggle mentally and emotionally. And we all know that a positive mindset is also key for natural, sustainable fat loss so it's essential we support our mental health just as much as our physical health.
Finally, I believe that when our body's have to naturally adapt to changes in state, it keeps our organs and natural body processes functioning optimally. As with most things, when the body gets used to being in the same state all the time, it becomes complacent and the initial benefits experienced in the beginning are not quite so forthcoming as time goes by.
A perfect example of this is when you have been following the same exercise routine for several months. Initially, you may have noticed significant fat loss and muscle gain. However over time, if nothing changes to keep the body guessing, that same exercise routine will no longer be considered challenging as the body will adapt and find it "too easy". So I always believe it important to make sure our body remains "on it's toes!"
So in summary, my recommendation is to follow a PREDOMINANTLY low-carb way of eating initially with more focus placed on healthy fats and lean protein. However the inclusion of carbs is essential at EVERY meal, just in the form of healthy, complex, fibrous carbohydrates, not the simple, starchy ones. And then on occasion, later down the road when weight loss is well underway, carbs can be increased from time to time while healthy fats are decreased in conjunction.
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In addition to helping lose fat, low carb diets have the benefit of preserving muscle mass during weight loss. They can also improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels because of the increased focus on healthy, essential, omega 3 fatty acids.
Not to mention that eating fewer carbs during most meals in place of more lean protein and healthy fats will ensure a more stabilised blood sugar level throughout each day. And when our blood-sugar levels are balanced, guess what?
BYE BYE CRAVINGS!
So in conclusion......
As with most things in the world of health and nutrition, there isn't a "one size fits all" solution. Low carb diets can be a good choice for many people who need to lose weight but it's only one piece of the puzzle.
Are you ready to get some clarity around the next best steps for you? If so, click here to book your free 45 minute strategy session today!
And in the meantime, fancy trying a low-carb, tasty dinner recipe that will make you think you are eating naughty? Check out the recipe below:
Recipe: "Breaded" Chicken Drumsticks:
2 pounds chicken drumsticks
½ cup almond flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp rosemary or thyme
½ tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Cover a large baking dish with parchment paper.
In large food storage bag, combine all ingredients except chicken.
Place a couple of pieces of chicken in the bag and shake until coated.
Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
Place chicken on a lined dish and bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
Turn over and bake 15 minutes longer.
Ensure internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 F.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can roast veggies in another pan at the same time. Just chop, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. They might not need to cook as long as the chicken, so check them periodically.