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…
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 in this article, 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 a panacea? Is it right for everyone? Should we all just go low carb and call it a day?
One the other side 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.
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…
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.”
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. There are many issues with eating a lot of sugar or simple carbs:
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.
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:
Extremely low carbohydrate/ high fat diets (KETOGENIC diets) has been studied for years to benefit persons with:
According to this article in the NY Times, low carb, higher fat diets can help people improve their heart health markers and also lose unwanted body fat. The people who diet was comprised of at least 40% dietary fat (13% saturated) were found to lose more weight (about 8 pounds on average more in a year’s time) and have better inflammation and triglyceride markers than the people who took in less than 30% fat in their diets. The people who had lower fat intake also lost muscle along with any fat loss, which is not good for the metabolism.
While low carb diets can reset our insulin sensitivity and it can be THE factor that gets some people’s metabolism going again….sometimes, low carb diets for a long term can lead to a myriad of issues – including thyroid issues and hormonal havoc. Some studies even show that low carb diets can actually cause insulin resistance – the very condition that it can initially improve! (read this article to learn more). And low carb diets are not a panacea, and…could be disastrous to some people’s health. Below are some signs that a low carb diet may not be for you, or that you need to adjust your diet to include some more nutrious carbs.
Signs Your Low Carb Diet May be Backfiring:
The most common mistakes people make when lowering carbs:
Read: Is a Low Carb Diet Ruining Your Health?
I get this question A LOT in my Break up with Sugar program. And as much as I want to give them an answer – there really is no one real clear answer for everyone. The amount of carbs a person needs depends on a number of factors. You need to find the right balance for you for that timeframe in your life. Here are a few things to consider when determining your carb need:
According to Paul Jaminet in this post, a mildly low carb diet (20-30% carbs) appears to promote longevity, a carb “overfed” diet (40-50% carbs) promotes fertility and athleticism, and a moderate carb diet (30-40% carbs) is essentially “neutral” and places minimal stress on the body. So if you are struggling with hormones or fertility, or you are an endurance athlete – you might think twice before cutting out carbs. If you are dealing with elevated disease markers – like high triglycerides, you might want to consider going lower carb.
People that have been on a low carb diet often have a fear of carbs. They think that carbs cause weight gain and therefore are evil (even if they know their low carb diet is no longer working for them). So getting more carbs in your diet may not be an easy mental shift for low carb devotees. But if you are experiencing some of the above symptoms – it is probably time to dial up the carbs, or you could potentially find yourself with a serious case of adrenal fatigue, hormonal havoc, and/or a thyroid disorder.
So in order to choose wisely, when deciding whether or not to eat a carb – ask yourself
One possible approach to the dilemma of whether or not to go Low Carb or not – is to cycle back and forth between low carb/higher fat, and moderate carbs. This is great for commitment fobes, and more importantly, keeps the metabolism on it’s toes. This approach has long been used by weight lifters to lean out and bulk up – but is becoming more mainstream as of late.
There are several ways to do this, these are just some examples:
Read: The Science of Carb Cycling: How It Works and How to Do It Right
Whether you stick with a low carb diet or not, you might want to consider adding in a serving or two of resistant starch to your diet. Resistant starch does not spike blood sugar or insulin like regular starches/carbs, and it supports healthy bacteria in the gut. It is sometimes called the “skinny starch” because it can help people lose excess weight and help balance gut health to give you a flatter belly. Read What is Skinny Starch? to learn more. Or sign up for my eCourse – All About Resistant Starch to learn more and get a recipe book.
So although I generally recommend going low carb for a short period of time for most people, because it can help you reset the metabolism and lose weight, just realize that it may or may not be right for you for the long term. And if you do stick with a low carb diet – you need to remember to get plenty of healthy fats!!
This article is an excerpt from Sara’s Break up with Sugar program.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance