Eliminating carbohydrates from our diet is one of the most common go-tos to drop weight but clinical nutritionist and PT, Lucy Beaumont says it’s also one of the biggest fitness mistakes we make.
While subscribing to a low carbohydrate diet may help us drop numbers on the scale in the short term, it’s not sustainable for long-term health and weight management.
When we follow a low carb diet, the body is forced to break down fat (a process called ketosis) for energy instead of relying on old faithful carbohydrates—the body’s preferred source of energy.
While a ketogenic diet does have its place, it needs to be followed properly to ensure that the body doesn’t become too acidic (the body prefers to be in an alkaline state). A ketogenic diet can be dangerous for individuals with insulin resistance, diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
A very low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet is incredibly hard to sustain and is not very good for our bodies. The weight loss is often short-term meaning you gain the weight back (and some) as soon as you switch back to your regular eating habits.
Low carb diets such as The Zone, Atkins and Dukan subscribe to a very low carbohydrate and high protein diet. This way of eating means that the body is forced to break down fat (a process called ketosis) for energy instead of relying on old faithful carbohydrates—the body’s preferred source of energy. While a ketogenic diet does have its place, it needs to be followed properly to ensure that the body doesn’t become too acidic (the body prefers to be in an alkaline state). A ketogenic diet can be dangerous for individuals with insulin resistance, diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Why is this? Carbohydrates are a very important macronutrient. They are our body’s preferred source of fuel meaning that they get used first (before protein, fat and alcohol). Current guidelines suggest that 45-60% of your daily diet should be made up of carbohydrates. Here’s why.
Carbs give us the most energy for optimal functioning of the body
Carbohydrates help to supply the body with a constant stream of glucose. Glucose is important to sustain blood sugar levels. People on very low carbohydrate diets often notice blood sugar level dips, which can lead to poor brain functioning such as tiring, getting easily distracted and having difficulty concentrating.
Carbs support good bacteria (microflora) in our digestive system
Our microflora need a healthy balance of all our macronutrients to be happy, healthy and function optimally. A very low carbohydrate (and fibre) diet can wreak havoc on the gut microbiome. Low carbohydrate diets most often advocate high protein and fat to compensate, which can be particularly problematic and can lead to dysbiosis, endotoxemia and severe health problems. Consuming adequate low GI carbohydrates that are fibre-rich supports digestion and helps to keep bowel movements regular.
There is a strong connection between carbohydrates and mood. Eating enough low GI, nutrient dense carbohydrates helps to support the production of an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, our happy hormone!
Carbs protect muscles
The body wants carbohydrates as a source when exercising as it’s quickly released and gives us the most energy. When we don’t have enough carbohydrates as fuel, our body starts to breakdown muscle glycogen stores and we can fatigue very quickly. Ensure you are supporting muscle health and workout longevity by including good quality carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals.
Now before you go carb crazy (you knew there was a catch, right?) it’s important to know that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Most of us are up to speed on low GI carbs—good quality options such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet and sprouted or sourdough breads that are nutrient dense and supply a slow sustained release of glucose keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel. Then, there are our high GI carbs, which are often refined with added sugar, refined starch and added fats with little nutritional value—think white potatoes, white bread, soft drinks, pastries and cakes. High GI carbs give you a quick rush of glucose, which leads to a spike in blood glucose followed by a crash (giving you those roller coaster energy levels).
Opt for a mix of high fibre, water-dense, nutrient-rich, low-energy carbohydrates such as seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as low GI wholegrain cereals like barley, buckwheat, bulgar, oats, quinoa, rye and wild rice.