If you have ever read or even glanced at a magazine in the grocery checkout line or been on the World Wide Web (lol)…you have seen some version of low carb diet.
What is a “carb”?
For those who do not hang out in at the gym or know fitness lingo, a “carb” is short for carbohydrate. A carbohydrate is one of the three macro-nutrients. Carbohydrates are divided into two subcategories: Simple and Complex.
Simple carbs are monosaccharides and disaccharides (just a fancy way to distinguish their molecular makeup).
Common disaccharides are:
- Sucrose (table sugar)*
- Lactose (milk sugar)
- Corn Syrup*
*contain glucose and fructose in varying amounts
Complex Carbs are oligosaccharides and polysaccharides also known as starches.
- Starch (plants)
- Glycogen (glucose stored in muscle tissue)
- Cellulose (not to be confused with cellulite)
Typically, a low carb diet consists of eating less than 20 grams of carbs per day. Examples are ketogenic diets (Atkins), Paleo, Whole 30, and Protein Power Diet.
#1 Most fad diets jump at the chance to pull out carbs. Why?? Because the carbohydrate molecular structure will pull in water molecules. So, if you take out the carbs, you will immediately see a drop in weight on the scale. Plus, when you are carrying less water in your body, the skin adheres more to the muscle if your body fat percentage is low enough this gives you a more toned look. This temporary technique is commonly used in bodybuilding physique preps or used with models when getting ready for a photo shoot.
#2 One main ingredient that ALL fad diets have in common is lower calories. When you cut out carbs, you are eliminating a substantial amount of calories out of your daily intake. If you normally eat 2 cups of pasta a day and no you have removed pasta… that alone could be a 400 calorie deficit!!
Do low carb diets work?
I don’t care what “guru” you are talking to you need carbs. They are essential for life. Where the confusion lies is what type of carbs do we need to survive. Doughnuts, pastries, pretzels, pasta, processed breads, boxed or canned food….no these you do NOT need.
You need a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, according to the American Dietetic Association. Majority of these carbs should be coming from vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. NOT processed food. These recommendations from the American Dietetic Association are to meet basic energy levels. Depending on the size of your body, your height, activity level and specific fitness goals, this will alter the above recommendation.
You will experience:
- Extremely low energy levels
- Sickness, flu-like symptoms
- Brain fog (you need carbs to think and remember things)
- Depression (not being able to eat in social settings, limited to certain foods, etc.)
- Muscle loss (your metabolism will drop and muscle is the first to be sacrificed. More muscle equals higher metabolic rate and being able to burn calories while sitting doing nothing)
- Increased cravings
- Bonking (if you are an active individual, you may not make it through your workouts. You may “bonk” also known as “hitting the wall”. Basically, your body shuts down.)
- Lower fiber intake (there can be medical issues that will arise from low fiber intake such as constipation and certain cancers)
- Liver stress (your liver must work harder to metabolize all the extra protein you will be eating)
NO! You will get fat if you eat more calories than you burn. [Read more about that here.]
The bottom line is carbohydrates are important and are required for optimal functioning.
Does this mean you cannot do a low carb diet?
Not necessarily. It is really individualized to each person. Some people do very well on low carb diets. I am not one of them. I need to have a certain amount of carbs throughout the day. Not only does it keep me healthy and my metabolism churning…it also keeps me sane 😉