A low-carb diet is generally used for losing weight. Some low-carb diets may have health benefits beyond weight loss, such as reducing risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. You might choose to follow a low-carb diet because you want a diet that restricts certain carbs to help you lose weight. On the other hand you may just want to change your overall eating habits. Or perhaps you just enjoy the types and amounts featured in low-carb diets. Whatever motivates your interest in a low-carb diet you should check with your doctor before starting any weight-loss diet, especially if you have any health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. But why are carbs important and what are some other considerations when choosing a low-carb diet?
Are Carbs Important?
According to the UK’s National Health Service, Carbohydrates are important to your health for several reasons including energy, disease risk and calorie intake:
Carbohydrates should be your body’s main source of energy in a healthy, balanced diet. They’re broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into your blood. The glucose then enters your body’s cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by your body for energy, fueling your activities, whether that’s going for a run or simply breathing. Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen, which is found in the liver and muscles. If more glucose is consumed than can be stored as glycogen, it’s converted to fat for long-term storage of energy. Starchy carbohydrates that are high in fibre release glucose into the blood slower than sugary foods and drinks.
Risk of Disease
Fibre is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. It can promote good bowel health, reduce the risk of constipation, and some forms of fibre have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Research shows diets high in fibre are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Many people do not get enough fibre. Adults are advised to eat an average of 30g a day. The recommended fibre intake for children can vary from 15g to 30g, depending on their age.
Carbohydrate contains fewer calories gram for gram than fat; 4 calories (4kcal) per gram for carbs and 9 calories (9kcal) per gram for fat. Also, starchy foods can be a good source of fibre, which means they can be a useful part of maintaining a healthy weight. By replacing fatty, sugary foods and drinks with higher fibre starchy foods, it’s more likely you’ll reduce the number of calories in your diet. Also, high-fibre foods add bulk to your meal, helping you feel full.
Good and Bad Carbs
According to The Harvard Medical School, the main issue with carbs is that they can come from various foods — some good and some bad.
“We get dietary carbohydrates from nutrient-rich whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruit, vegetables, and dairy — but also from refined grains and the added sugars in processed foods and sugary beverages,” says Vasanti Malik, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Natural, unprocessed foods provide health-promoting vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals along with carbs. On the other hand, highly processed foods made with refined flour — such as white bread, pasta, crackers, and muffins — typically fall short on these nutrients. Sugary foods, like cookies, cake, candy, and soda, are especially low in nutrients and are often referred to as “empty calories.”
“In short, carbohydrates in their natural packaging are an excellent choice for health, while refined carbs, which currently make up a large and growing part of the American diet, are not,” says Malik.
Benefits of Low-Carb Eating
While carbs help to create energy, fight disease and provide essential calories, people following low-carb diets can experience the following benefits:
- weight loss
- less inflammation
- improvements in skin complexion
- a rise in energy levels
- reduction in gas and bloating
- better mental focus
Frequently Asked Questions
There is a lot of misinformation about low-carb diets. Some claim that it’s the optimal human diet, while others consider it an unsustainable and potentially harmful fad. Healthline provides some answers to frequently asked questions:
Is it a fad?
Fad diets enjoy short-term popularity and success. In contrast, the low-carb diet has been around for decades and is supported by over 20 high-quality human studies.
Is it hard to stick to?
Science does not support the idea that low-carb diets are hard to stick to. In fact, they allow you to eat until satisfied while still losing weight, which is more sustainable than calorie-restricted diets.
Where does the weight loss come from?
People who eat a low-carb diet shed a lot of excess water but also body fat, especially from the liver and abdominal area.
Is it bad for your heart?
There is no evidence that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause harm, and studies on low-carb diets show that they improve several key risk factors for heart disease.
Is it the same as low calorie?
Though low-carb diets lead to reduced calorie intake, the fact that this happens subconsciously is a big benefit. Low-carb diets also aid metabolic health.
Does it mean you can’t eat veg?
You can eat plenty of plant foods even with a very low carb intake. Vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds are all examples of healthy plant foods that are low in carbs.
Does it lead to Ketosis?
A very-low-carb diet leads to the beneficial metabolic state of ketosis. This is not the same as ketoacidosis, which is dangerous but only happens in unmanaged type 1 diabetes.
Do you lose concentration?
On a low-carb diet, a part of your brain can use ketones for fuel. Your body can then produce the little glucose that other parts of your brain still need.
Does it reduce physical performance?
Low-carb diets are not detrimental to physical performance for most people. However, it can take a few weeks for your body to adapt.
Whatever your reasons for considering a low-carb diet, Healthy Gourmet’s menu of global flavors offers several delicious meal choices under 15g of carbs – Italian, Thai, Creole or Korean. Take a look and see for yourself!