The low carb diet.
This diet has seen an incredible amount of popularity over the recent years.
Article headlines reading ‘Carbs are evil’, ‘Carbs are dirty’ and ‘Carbs make you fat’ are common now, with more people than ever opting for carb elimination.
Or even common phrases from people, to include but not limited to:
- “Carbs spike blood sugars, which results in huge increases of body fat”
- “Carbs cause inflammation and other illnesses”
- “Carbs are not essential, fats and proteins are more important”
What is worrying is that removing vital nutrients from our diets can be detrimental to
Health should be the most important variable in any training or nutritional programme and be the foundation on which we then build our goals from.
So let's discuss why eliminating carbohydrates from our diets is not necessary.
Where This Myth Stems From
Back in the 90s, Dr Atkins revival of his ‘Atkins Diet’ took everyone by storm and since then there have been waves of popularity over low carb diets. The Atkins Diet is one, but there are others such as The Dukan Diet and The South Beach Diet being amongst the more popular.
These diets severely restrict carbohydrates, concentrating on proteins and fats as resources for the body.
With this in mind, these styles of diets can work for some with careful monitoring. In place of carbohydrates, healthy fat is increased to fuel the body for energy.
But this is where the fatal error occurs when people attempt to incorporate similar styles into their own nutrition. They eliminate carbohydrates but also keep fats reduced also. The two combined are detrimental.
Let's look into this further…
What Are Carbohydrates?
This may seem very basic information but given they are seen as the ‘devil’ macronutrient by some, it’s an idea to educate ourselves on what they are and how they support the body
When you eat carbs, the body converts them into glucose (sugar), which is used to fuel all cells such as those in the brain and muscles.
There are 3 different types of carbohydrate:
- SUGARS: can be found naturally or manufactured into foods
- STARCHES: made up of sugar units bonded together and found in foods that come from plants. These carbohydrates provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day
- FIBRES: only found in plant based foods. These carbs keep our digestive system healthy and assists in helping many health issues.
In a healthy balanced diet, carbs are the body’s main source of energy, providing 4kcal per gram.
Glucose (the breakdown component of carbs) is absorbed into the bloodstream. With the help of the hormone insulin, glucose enters the body’s cells. It is here that the cells use the glucose for energy.
Carbohydrates are required for the energy to BREATHE, as well as all other activities that you embark on.
Carbohydrates are particularly important during exercise.
Exercising muscles RELY on carbohydrates as their main fuel source. Muscles have a limited glycogen supply, so require carbohydrates to be topped up regularly to keep energy levels up. Without topping up these carbohydrates, your energy levels during exercise will deplete. This results in early fatigue and delayed recovery time.
Sure, fat and protein can provide energy, but they are much harder to convert than carbohydrates, which would mean you feel low on energy during your workout.
Restricting your carb intake also could lead to a slower metabolism, increase in stress hormones like cortisol, and a decrease in muscle-building and metabolic-regulating hormones such as T3, leptin and testosterone.
Yep - even if you regularly consume protein shakes, ensure you have your 3-5 chicken breasts per day, you could still lose muscle if you don’t consume enough carbs.
So carbs are pretty important right!!
Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen. This is found in the liver and muscles and used for storage.
Long term storage of energy is where glucose is converted to fat. And this is where the fear of carbs stems from. But carbs only store as excess fat if we eat a surplus of calories.
It’s the same with any food group. Too much of anything can lead to weight gain.
So Why Do People Opt For Low Carb Diets?
Because the initial period is awesome!
You lose a lot of weight almost immediately. Trouble is, this is mostly water and glycogen – not necessarily body fat.
Over the long term, any differences between low carb diets and other diets balance out and show that it isn't beneficial to opt for one over another.
Often when people opt for a low-carb diet, they consume an increased amount of protein.
Protein has many contributing factors to encourage weight loss:
- Has a higher thermic effect
- Provides satiety
- Retains lean muscle mass
So the magic could be from the protein component to the diet, as opposed to the low carb factor. In fact, there aren’t really any studies that examine low-carb and low-protein diets versus low-carb high-protein diets. If there were, I’d put a lot of money on the high-protein diet coming out a clear winner.
Some low carb diets can be effective for those with medical issues OR are extremely obese and sedentary. But these individuals should seek medical guidance before embarking on any restrictive programmes.
Living your life
The most important factor with any diet is to enjoy it.
Eliminating a major macronutrient can cause stresses during social events and meet ups, where it is difficult to opt for non carb choices from menus
If you take one thing away from this article let it be this:
FAD DIETS ARE OFTEN BAD DIETS
We hear of all these different types of diets constantly.
For some, preaching about low carbs and high fats led to people consuming butters, bacon and creams in copious amounts.
For others, preaching about high carbs and low fats led people to feel like they were cheated with fat free treats, resulting in increased consumption of foods like rice cakes.
The best diet is a balanced and varied diet that works for YOU.
Adjust your macro intake according to your goals, genetics, type of food sources (in case of allergies) and activity level.
Don't like potato? Try rice.
Don't like pasta? Opt for oats.
The choices are limitless.
Enjoy a wide variety of whole, fresh foods
Manage your diet as per YOUR preferences, YOUR experiences, YOUR performances.
This industry can be very confusing when it comes to diet choices and what works best.
But remember YOU are your own person.
Enjoy all food.
Carbohydrates are your friend.