Low carb diets have come up in conversation a lot lately.
The thing is, if you go online and googled it there is actually very mixed numbers as to what is considered low carb. So I don’t think most of us actually know what a low carb diet really is or why they work.
Low carb diets like the infamous Atkins, South Beach and Ketogenic diet became popular in the USA as what seemed to be a great way to lose weight. Atkins was famous for its pictures of fry ups etc. But then the tide changed and a lot of Science suggested that diets high in fat would cause cardiovascular disease. Now we appear to have swung around again and have decided actually fat is good for you (it is) and that sugar and therefore carbs are the enemy again.
To be honest neither fat nor carbs are the devil alone. Refined sugar is however a different story but you already know that don’t you?
So, what does count as a low carb diet? From doing some research it appears to be anything from less than 300g to less than 150g and a ketogenic diet is less than 50g. I would say having looked at the studies etc. that around 150g is pretty much low carb but also this varies a little from person to person as to how their body reacts.
So why are low carb diets so popular?
When you strip carbs from your diet you can lose quite a significant amount of weight initially, but this is usually just water and glycogen loss i.e. not fat! So great if you are using it as a last minute pre party slim down-like celebs for the Oscars-not great if you try and live your life like that.
Also, with the idea that carbs cause your insulin levels to spike and more people having insulin resistance, the theory is the less it spikes the better the metabolic health. Sort of true but not the full story.
So why are low carb diets bad news?
In short, it can disrupt your hormone levels particularly in women. This includes your Thyroid, Stress Hormones and those that control your fertility and menstrual cycle. So your stress levels can go up and your metabolism and mood can go down. And fellas for you this means you have less testosterone and build less muscle……………………hmmmm.
Having looked at some of the studies on low carb diets there is one particular factor that is present in all of them and that is carbs are replaced with a higher protein intake. So could it be said that a high protein diet is actually the key to weight loss irrespective of carbs? Protein has a high thermic effect meaning your body works hard to digest it (This means it burns more calories…..and causes the meat sweats), it also makes people feel fuller longer and helps you to retain muscle mass. Go Protein!
Now back to the insulin business. In people with insulin resistance or early stages i.e. insulin sensitivity numerous studies have shown that reducing the carbohydrate does indeed begin to regulate insulin levels. However it is important to note that once Insulin levels are regulated and the body has reprogrammed to respond normally it is fine to go back to a moderate carb intake and monitor it from there.
Also, in people with a proper insulin response your body will ebb and flow the hormones as necessary to balance out your glucose levels and this is indeed a completely normal and healthy part of how your body should work. If you had consistenly low insulin levels your body would in fact struggle to maintain muscle mass, and by this I don’t just mean the bicep busting arnie type I also mean the more modest general ones that hold you up and help you move around all day. So we do need some insulin.
To be honest despite all the research the answer as to how many grams of carbs we should eat per day still varies from person to person. If you eat 300g of carbs and feel great then that’s fine, if you only eat 150g of carbs and feel great then that’s fine.
But thinking that just cutting carbs in your diet is the key to weight loss is misguided, the same equation of calories in and calories out still applies overall however the macronutrients are made up. You just may feel better with a different split between them than somebody else.
It also pays to take note of where your carb sources come from. I’m sorry but the Warburton’s white toastie loaf is not a good source, but grains like quinoa, wild rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, starchy veg like parsnips, carrots, beetroot and fruit are all great sources of nutrition and carbs!
So, please don’t buy into the whole no carbs thing unless you have specific issue with insulin resistance there is really no need. Just experiment with how you feel on different amounts and make them from good sources. I say it was fairly obvious that cutting out sugary cereals, high amounts of white flour and processed carbs like cakes, biscuits etc. is going to make you feel more energetic and lose weight but it wasn’t the lack of carbs that did it, it was more likely the lack of cr*p!