Thursday, April 17, 2014

Low-Carb Wisdom

A friend texted the other day with a request for a blog post. She was curious to hear what I thought about low-carbohydrate diets and excited to share that she has recently lost weight following one. Kudos! Nice work! I am always excited to hear about people's "AHA" moments and renewed motivation to work towards health. Was I surprised that she's been successful losing weight following a low carb diet? Nope. And here's why:

The bottom line is that people lose weight when they restrict calories. You've heard that before, right? It's so boring though! And hard! But eliminating a short list of foods, such as carbohydrates, offers a structured way to restrict calories. When a low-carb diet works, it's probably because before starting the diet, the dieter was getting the typical 50% of their calories from carbohydrates. By reducing or eliminating carbs, they create a deficit that is hard to totally negate even if you eat more protein and fat. For example, if you were eating a diet of 50% carb, 20% protein and 30% fat but decided to stop eating all carbs, you would likely partially replace those calories with protein and fat, but it would be pretty difficult to double your intake, right? So you'd be left with a calorie deficit, which if sustained, would cause you to lose weight. We've agreed that restricting calories is hard, right? Well, sustaining a "low-carb" diet is even harder. Which is my bone to pick with low-carb diets: they aren't sustainable in the long term.

So, the question still remains: do I endorse low-carb diets? I do, sort-of, but with many caveats. It is smart and healthy to:
  1. Eliminate refined grains & simple carbohydrates (white bread, enriched pasta, store-bought desserts/cookies/snacks, juice)
  2. Continue eating 100% whole wheat products (unless you're gluten intolerant or celiac)
  3. Continue eating ALL fruits or vegetables (even potatoes and bananas)
  4. Eat beans & legumes. Yes, they have carbohydrate, but they also have protein and fiber
  5. Remember that all of these foods have calories and that to lose weight you must create a deficit
So in summary, I'm all for people reducing the JUNK carbs that are everywhere in our food system, grocery stores and diets. But fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are so healthy and beneficial, in large part because of the fiber they contain. If you're interested in losing weight and think you eat too many refined carbs and simple sugars, create a deficit by reducing or eliminating these foods. Heck, even if you don't have weight to lose, your body will be thrilled if you stop feeding it refined grains and simple sugars!

The very, very bottom line: FIBER is your friend. Aim for 25-35 grams per day (and use this website to figure out how much fiber your favorite foods contain).

So what about my friend who inspired this post? I think/hope my response to her question was in line with what I finally typed up today, but you be the judge...

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alicia! I'm so glad you posted about this. I definitely try to keep a lot of those foods to a minimum-- mostly because I feel better when I'm not eating them. I'm also glad you posted about this because I just watched this talk and wanted to know if you saw it, and if so, what you think of it. One of the things he asserts is that a calorie is not just a calorie... it depends where you get it from, and obviously he's targeting sugar, specifically fructose.


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