Are low carb diets healthy?

February 22, 2012 BY: LISA

What’s the low down on carbs??

There is so many different diets and ideas going around about carbohydrates you would be forgiven for not quite understanding what you should be eating and how much!

What are carbohydrates?

Bread, breakfast cereal, fruit,biscuits (sweet anddry), rice, dairy products, potato, cakes/pastries, grains, legumes, pasta, corn/peas(small amount), soft drink/juices, sweets.

 

Are carbohydrates good or bad for you?

As you can see by the above list, some carbohydrates are good for you and can be eaten every day however some carbohydrates definitely fall into the “extras” or “sometimes” food category.

What do carbohydrates do in the body?

When carbohydrates are broken down by the body (digestion) they produce glucose. Glucose is the body’s preferred energy source. So if you’ve ever gone without carbs for any length of time you will have been quite tired and lacking in energy particularly if you were trying to train/exercise at the same time.

Why do all the diets say to avoid them?

Given that carbs are your bodies preferred source of energy they will always be used first, however if you deprive your body of this energy it is forced to burn your body fat as an alternative fuel source. So if you are not eating carbs this means that you are eating more protein and potentially fat to make up the difference.

In the short term this will put your body into “ketosis” which is a state where ketones are produced as by products of using your body fat for energy. Research shows that this does work for weight loss more quickly in the short term.  However in the long term we see that people cannot keep up this way of eating and therefore go back to “normal” and put all their weight back on. The other problem with very low carb diets is constipation, bad breath, raised cholesterol and low calcium intake if you are
avoiding dairy foods – these things can have long term health consequences.

So what is the right way?

What we are learning is that refined carbohydrates are not great. These are things like white bread, sweet biscuits, dry white biscuits and cakes/pastries, soft drinks, lollies, low fibre/higher sugar breakfastcereals. Hopefully, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. In fact if you use these types of carbohydrates to replace the bad fats (saturated fat) in your diet it can actually increase your heart disease risk just as much as the bad fats do.

The best things to include are the wholegrain/wholemeal/Low GI carbohydrates – these carbohydrates give you a great source of fibre as well as goodness which is inside the grains themselves. The low GI component gives you energy over a longer period of time, is good for your blood sugar levels and has been shown effective to assist weight loss.

Examples of good carbohydrate foods are grainy bread, oats, high fibre cereals, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, legumes, alternative grainssuch as quinoa, spelt, rye to name a few.

Avoiding dairy foods is never a great thing to do as itprovides a great source of readily absorbed calcium and having 2-3 serves daily helps achieve the recommended intake for calcium. Reduced fat dairy foods make a great low GI snack and have not been shown to increase weight at these required levels.

Overall aim:

Decrease or remove the refined carbohydrates from your diet, if you are trying to lose weight having smaller portions of carbohydrate and protein and increasing your vegetable intake is a great way of doing this. Nuts and seeds and the good oils found in plants are also a healthy addition to your diet in small amounts daily, particularly to replace the bad fats and refined carbohydrates.

Lisa Renn

Accredited Practising Dietitan (APD)

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