The Skinny on Low Carb Diets

Nutrition // Jenelle Croatto

Cut the carbs and I can guarantee you’ll see a fast drop in weight. Great news, right?

Not exactly. A few days into your low-carb diet you may feel fatigued, crave sugar and, when you finally call it quits, the kilos you initially lost tend to creep back on.

This initial weight loss isn’t from fat, but rather the loss of water, some muscle and glycogen (stored energy) within our muscles and liver.

Here are five things you need to consider before you completely cut carbs:
1. Nutrients found in carbs

Many carb-rich foods go hand-in-hand with fibre, so when our diet is stripped of wholegrains, fruit, legumes and starchy veg it becomes particularly difficult to eat enough fibre, leading to a sluggish bowel.

Foods such as barley, bananas, legumes and cooked-then-cooled potato, pasta and rice also contain resistant starch, which healthy gut bacteria love to feed on.

Along with fibre, many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as antioxidants are also found alongside carb-rich foods.

 

 2. Replacing carbs with poor choices

While healthy alternatives to carbs can be made, many low-carb trends see fatty meats such as sausages and bacon make their way back onto the plate.

High in saturated fat and preservatives, these overly processed meats are no good for health and are associated with an increase risk of high cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease and bowel cancer.

Replacing carbs with high-fat meats can be problematic.

Replacing carbs with high-fat meats can be problematic.

3. Carbs being a ‘premium’ source of energy

Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for your muscles, central nervous system, organs and brain.

During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and the hormone insulin helps pull glucose into your cells to fuel your body and power your brain.

If we fail to fuel our body right we can experience a drop in blood glucose levels leading to hunger, lethargy and a foggy brain.

4. Carbs helping with sugar cravings

While an omelette for breakfast and chicken and salad for lunch packs a nutritional punch, skimping on the carbs earlier in the day will lead to dips in blood glucose levels and strong sugar cravings mid afternoon, if not earlier.

5. Carbs optimising fat burning

Lowering your carb intake below basic metabolic needs will see your metabolism slow down in an attempt to survive on fewer calories.

This is why those who continue to cut the carbs struggle with losing weight, despite sticking to their exercise plan.

In a nutshell, your muscles need carbs to perform at their best and for you to effectively burn fat.

 

Focus on low-GI carbohydrates like rolled oats.

Focus on low-GI carbohydrates like rolled oats.

So what’s the solution?

It’s clear that carbs are needed to achieve optimal health, so why the bad rep? Firstly, the widespread use of refined carbs and hidden sugars in many high-energy processed foods contributes to the idea that “all carbs are evil” and secondly, unlike protein, they’re easy to overeat.

The secret is to team protein with some carbs to keep your blood glucose levels steady, food cravings at bay and energy systems firing all day long.

Unlike refined carbs, smart carbs will provide you with lasting energy between meals and keep you full for longer.

These include:

  • Wholegrains (oats, barley, quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice and pasta)
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Starchy veggies (sweet potato, corn and low GI potatoes)
  • Fruit
  • Dairy
  • Wholegrain breads and cereals.

When shopping look for words such as wholegrain, high fibre and low GI.

While there is no need to rid your diet of carbs, the truth is we can certainly pay closer attention to the amount we eat – particularly the processed kind.

By eating sensible portions of smart carbs you will have greater control over your diet and experience a renewed sense of vitality.

 

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