Low Carb Diets: Yay or Nay?
When it comes to weight loss, carbs are sometimes considered the enemy, especially among people following low carb diets. But carbohydrates are not something to avoid at all costs. In fact, eating carbs is important to maintaining energy and to get proper nutrition. It’s the type of carbs you eat that’s key.
Refined carbs contain simple sugars and little nutritional value. Think sweets, white bread, and pasta. These carbohydrates can lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels, energy slumps, and contribute to weight gain.
Complex carbs are different. They pack more nutrition including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Complex carbs are absorbed slowly and provide a good source of sustained energy. Examples include vegetables, whole grains, and fresh fruit.
What is low carb?
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends that carbohydrates make up about 45% to 65% of an adult’s total calorie intake each day. But low carb diets restrict carbohydrates. Typically, low carb diets will limit carbohydrates to between 30 to 130 grams – or 120 to 520 calories derived from carbohydrates – per day.
Keep in mind, there are different types of low carb diets. Some diets recommend keeping carb intake as low as 50 grams or less during the initial phase and increasing intake slowly. If you’re following a low-carb plan, you’ll need to watch your intake of sugar and starches. Because the amount of carbohydrates is restricted, an emphasis is placed on eating foods with higher proportions of protein and healthy fats. Foods such as lean beef, chicken, fish and seafood, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, and dairy products are staples of most low carb diets.
Benefits of low carb diets
Are low carb plans the secret to weight loss success? According to the Mayo Clinic, studies indicate that low carb diets offer only a slight advantage when it comes to weight loss vs. other diets.
Still, replacing refined carbs — such as white bread and sweets — with nuts, veggies, and lean protein is healthier and probably results in eating fewer calories each day. In addition to weight loss, low carb diets allow better blood sugar control. They also decrease the risk of certain medical conditions, such as metabolic syndrome and type two diabetes. There is also evidence that restricting carb intake may help improve hormone regulation, decrease food cravings, and reduce the sensation of hunger between meals.
Risks of low carb diets
Before starting any of the popular low carb diets, consider talking with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any medical conditions that require a specific diet.
If you restrict carbohydrates severely — to less than about 30 grams a day — ketosis will occur. Ketosis is a condition which causes the body to metabolize stored fat for energy instead of burning glucose obtained from recently consumed carbohydrates. Achieving ketosis is the goal of some low carb “ketogenic” diet plans, like Atkins, Paleo, and variations of the Mediterranean diet. Burning fat sounds like a great idea, right? But ketosis can also come with some unpleasant side effects including fatigue, headaches, and nausea.
Go with what works for you
The bottom line is there’s no magic diet that assures weight loss for everyone. Some people thrive on low carb diets, while others find it too restrictive. If you want to give it a shot, use common sense. Choose your carbs wisely, eat healthy fats, lean protein, and stay well hydrated. But if restricting your carb intake causes you distress, it may be time to consider other options.
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