Is this low carb diet craze right for you? Or are you a calorie counter? OR does it even matter?
I’ve gotten a ton of flack from people on my diet choice and for a long time I just listened. To each his own right? Well, now I feel like doing a little comparison.
Past studies consistently show that a low carb diet aides in the results of more weight loss and improved risk factors for disease more so than the failed low-fat diet that is still being pushed by nutrition organizations all over the world. BUT…We’re all different and what works for one person may not work for the next.
There are PROS and CONS to every diet out there today. I like to do the pros and cons for almost everything I do. Personally I think the low carb diet is great, but I also think that there are some carbs out there that are not bad for you. And people need to do what is right and works for them.
Sugar and refined carbs are bad, pretty much everyone agrees on that. But vilifying all carbs based on that is kind of like vilifying all fats because of the harmful effects of trans fats and vegetable oils.
The truth is… not all carbs are fattening. It depends completely on the context and the type of food they are in.
For carbs to be “fattening,” they need to be refined and put into a package that is highly palatable and encourages over consumption.
A great example is potatoes. On their own, they are not very exciting. They have fiber, a low energy density and you will most likely feel full pretty quickly.
On the other hand, potato chips, deep fried in corn oil, with salt and pepper and maybe even a dipping sauce… now you’ve got a highly fattening food that is easy to over consume.
I’ve seen many real, traditional foods demonized by low-carbers because of the carb content. This includes foods like fruits, whole potatoes and carrots.
True… it is essential to limit these foods on a very low-carb, ketogenic diet. But this does not mean that there is anything “wrong” with those foods! Personally I love fruits and veggies!
But, people often tend to see things in black and white. Either a food is “bad” or “good.” The truth is that in nutrition, everything depends on the context and “healthy” is a relative term.
For a person eating a Western junk food diet, replacing some junk food with a few pieces of fruit per day would be “healthy.” But for a diabetic managing their symptoms on a ketogenic diet, the same amount of fruit would be “unhealthy.”
Catch 22? Not really! But It can be very confusing for those of us looking to improve our health and maintain or reach our goal weight.
A ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet, usually under 50 grams of carbs per day, with a very high fat intake (60-85% of calories).
Ketosis can be a highly beneficial metabolic state, especially for people with certain diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, epilepsy or obesity. But this really is not the only way to do a “low carb” diet. Low-carb can be anything up to 100-150 grams of carbs per day, perhaps even more.
Within this range, there is easily room for several pieces of fruit per day and even small amounts of whole, starchy foods like potatoes.
Even though a very low-carb / ketogenic diet may be the most effective for quick weight loss and several disease states, this is not appropriate for everyone.
I know of a lot of people who didn’t feel good in ketosis, but when they added in a few fruts (still low-carb) they suddenly started feeling awesome!
Saying that all carbs are broken down into “sugar” is true, but misleading. Technically, the word “sugar” includes various simple sugars like glucose, fructose and galactose. Yes, starches like grains and potatoes do get broken down into glucose in the digestive tract, which raises blood sugar levels.
To a diabetic, it is true that starches turn into “sugar” and raise the “sugars” in the blood. But to other people, who are not chemists, the word “sugar” implies the white, unhealthy granular stuff… sucrose.
Telling people that “all carbs turn into sugar” is misleading. It makes people think that there is no difference between a potato and a candy bar. Which clearly there is.
Sugar contains half glucose, half fructose, starch is only glucose. It is the fructose portion of sugar that is the most harmful, starch (glucose) does NOT have the same effect. Trying to mislead people into believing that starches are equivalent to sugar/HFCS is dishonest.
There are some who think that as long as carbs and insulin are low, that weight gain is impossible.But the truth is… it is very possible to gain weight on a low-carb diet.
Many low-carb foods can be fattening, especially for people who are prone to binge eating (like I used to be).
This includes cheese, nuts, peanuts and heavy cream. It is very easy to eat a ton of calories from these foods, enough to stall weight loss or even cause someone to start gaining weight back.
Back in my binge eating days, I used to binge on peanut butter. For a while, I used to eat an entire jar of organic peanut butter (70% fat, 15% carbs) and I gained weight like clockwork until I stopped doing it.
Although many people can eat these foods without problems, others need to moderate them if they want to be able to lose weight without restricting calories.
Despite decades of anti-fat propaganda, the studies are showing that saturated fat is harmless. There is no reason to avoid high-fat dairy products, fatty cuts of meat, coconut oil or butter. These are healthy foods. But just because “normal” amounts of saturated fat are fine, it doesn’t mean that adding a ton of it to your diet is a good idea.
It is trendy these days to add a whole lot of butter and coconut oil to coffee and I think doing this is fine… in moderation. It will probably lead to a reduced appetite, so it won’t cause weight gain or anything like that.
But if you’re adding 20-30-50 (or more) grams of fat to your diet every day, then you will be eating less of other more nutritious foods instead (like meat and veggies). Which is not good.
There is a misunderstanding among some low-carbers that calories simply don’t matter. Calories are a measure of energy and body fat is simply stored energy. If our bodies take in more energy than we can burn off, we store it (usually as body fat).
If our bodies expend more energy than we take in, we use stored body fat for energy. One of the reasons low-carb diets work so well, is that they reduce appetite. They make people eat less calories automatically, so there is no need for calorie counting or portion control.
Of course, these diets also optimize the function of important metabolic hormones like insulin, but one of the key reasons they work so well is that people start to eat less calories without trying. Calories count, but counting them or even being consciously aware of them is not necessary in many cases.
Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate material in foods. Humans don’t have the enzymes to digest fiber and therefore it passes through relatively unchanged. However, fiber is not irrelevant to health, like some low carbers seem to believe.
Fiber actually gets to the bacteria in the intestine, which do have the enzymes to digest it and can turn it into beneficial compounds, like the fatty acid butyrate.
In fact, there are many studies showing that fiber, especially soluble fiber, leads to various health benefits like weight loss and improved cholesterol. There are many different types of fiber. While some don’t really do anything, others are highly beneficial for health.
Many people who are metabolically healthy can easily maintain good health eating carbs, as long as they eat real food. However, when someone becomes insulin resistant and obese, the metabolic rules seem to change somehow.
People who have metabolic dysfunction caused by the Western Diet may need to avoid all high-carb foods. But even though removing most carbs may be necessary to reverse a disease, it does not mean that the carbs themselves caused the disease.
Healthy people who want to stay healthy will do just fine, even on a higher carb diet, as long as they stick to real, unprocessed foods. The prevention does not have to be the same as the cure.
Group thinking is a big problem in nutrition. People tend to pick “sides” – then they only read blogs and books by people who agree with the side they have chosen.
We need to be conscious of this group thinking phenomenon and always look at the opposite argument as well. Science changes all the time and what is true today can be proven wrong tomorrow.
So my conclusion is, do whats right for you, what makes you feel good, and gives you the best results possible!