Is Your Low Carb Diet Backfiring?
When people want to lose weight - they often cut down on carbs. It can work like a charm - with the pounds melting off (at least initially). But is this a good approach for everyone for the long term? Are there some downsides? This article helps you to know if low carb might be right for you, and also when your low carb diet might be backfiring...
Want to know what one of the most controversial and misunderstood areas of nutrition is?
On the one hand, you have the Low Carb enthusiasts, who tout the myriad of benefits of less carbs and more fat - who tout the low carb diet as the secret to resetting the metabolism and getting out of insulin resistance. And there is a lot of evidence that they are right - the majority of the population is getting way too many carbs in their diets - especially simple carbs.
A recent study supports the low carb approach - it found that doubling the intake of saturated fats did not affect the levels of fats in the blood. And conversely, the study found that an increased intake of carbohydrates increased the levels of fats in the blood. According to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, dietary refined carbohydrate is the primary driver of circulating saturated fatty acids in the bloodstream. "White bread, rice, cereals, potatoes, and sugars — not saturated fat — are the real culprits in our food supply," said Mozaffarian.
So if you are one of the millions of Americans that is struggling with stubborn weight gain - you might find that cutting down on carbs like bread, crackers, and cereals, and dialing up on the fats - can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce hunger, and improve many metabolic markers like triglycerides, cholesterol...and allow you to finally drop those stubborn pounds.
There are some people that take it a step further than low carb - to a Ketogenic approach - which is basically an extremely low carb, very high fat diet. Ketogenic diets train the metabolism to run on ketones for fuel instead of glucose/carbs. A recent study confirmed that a ketogenic diet led to a reduction in body mass, decreased triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose; and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
If you haven't already, you might be ready to jump on the low carb bandwagon now! But wait - is low carb or ketogenic a panacea? Is it right for everyone? Should we all just go low carb and call it a day?
One the other side of the argument are the Carb enthusiasts, who say our bodies and brains run on glucose and so carbs are what give our body and brain energy. And without them, we will bonk and this can eventually send our body go into hormonal havoc.
Well then. Who is right?
They both are - because the answer depends on the person, their current situation, and most importantly the TYPE of carbs we are talking about. Not all carbs are created equal - and so we can not "lump" all carbs into one basket - you can't really put sodas in the same bucket as broccoli! To truly comprehend this conundrum, we need to first ask...
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients that are basically made up of chains of sugars. These chains can be simple or complex. Simple carbs (monosaccarides) contain one or two sugars in their chain. Simple carb chains are broken apart easily, and therefore are a quick source of energy.
Generally speaking, simple carbs do provide quick energy (calories), but not much else - so most are "empty calories." After or during a hard long workout, you might need a simple carb to replenish energy, but generally speaking eating a lot of simple carbs overtime can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and many other health problems. And if they do not come paired with any fiber, the energy boost that you get from simple carbs is short-lived and can be followed by a "crash."
There are many issues with eating a lot of sugar or simple carbs:
the energy is short lived, followed by a crash.
they stimulate your hunger and cravings for sweets
overtime, eating a lot of sugar and simple carbs can lead to insulin resistance - which means your metabolism can not effectively process carbs for energy, and blood sugar stays elevated
excess sugar is linked to most major non-communicable diseases.
Complex carbs (polysaccarides) contain 3 or more chains of sugars, they are not broken down as quickly as simple carbs - and therefore serve as a longer lasting energy source. Complex carbs contain fiber and/or starches.
Carbs often get a bad rap, but nutritious carbs that come paired with fiber, vitamins and minerals (like vegetables and fresh, whole fruits) give you longer lasting energy, satisfy your hunger better, and have even been shown to lower the risk of many diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Is Low Carb a Good Option for You?
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of a low carb diet, some common pitfalls - and who might benefit from lowering carbs, and who may not.
Going low with carbohydrates in our diets (especially simple carbs) can be useful strategy for those with:
Excess body fat/weight (especially around the midsection)
Chronic and systemic inflammation
Some Autoimmune Conditions (grain free is recommended for this population)
Extremely low carbohydrate/ high fat diets (KETOGENIC diets) has been studied for years to benefit persons with:
Cancer (especially brain cancer)