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Low Carb Diets: Here's the Truth

articles Feb 09, 2024

Are carbs bad for you? Do they make you fat?

These are the most common questions I get asked from people looking to lose a little bit of weight and improve their health. And I’m not surprised, as information around food and nutrition is the most complicated since slice bread was invented.
With the latest rise in celebrity gurus touting caveman eating styles and revamping of the old Atkins Diet, now fondly know as the “Keto” (ketogenic) diet, how much truth is there that carbs are the culprits for our nation’s weight problem? (PS - if you want to read more about these two diets, check out this article HERE)

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrate is a term used to describe the sugar, starch and cellulose (fibre) components in food and other living tissues. Its role is to provide a major source of fuel to the body and provide fibrous materials for a healthy digestive tract.

Carbohydrates can be classified into SIMPLE and COMPLEX structures, due to how they are digested and absorbed in the body. The structure of the carbohydrate may be complex or simple due to its natural composition or because of how much food processing the food has been through. For example, traditional oats are classed as complex carbohydrates, but once they are milled into instant oats, then they become simple as the oats are broken down from a whole grain into a powder, all for the convenience of 90 seconds in the microwave.
On the other hand, milk and fruit are classed as simple carbohydrates because their natural composition is one that contains very short chains of sugar and so, once consumed the body does not have to do much to unravel these sugars to digest them.
Simple carbohydrates tend to have less fibre and are often digested quickly compared to complex carbohydrates.

How do I metabolise food?

All of your food is digested via the stomach, and then empties into the small intestine. It is from here that your nutrients are absorbed through the walls of our intestine and carried throughout the blood to your organs where it is processed and used as fuel.
Carbohydrates are your most preferred fuel source as it can be broken down rapidly to glucose (sugar) and stored within the muscle for times when you need a quick and efficient energy source. Any excess glucose not used or stored in the muscle will turn into body fat.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids that act like building blocks for new muscles and tissue. The body needs enough protein to maintain its muscle mass as this is where you burn your fuel to produce energy to complete every day tasks.
Fat is important for hormone regulation and also serves as a back up energy source. Like glucose, any excess fat consumed will be stored as body fat as a method of survival.

Can I live without carbs?

The short answer is yes, but…..
When you stop eating carbohydrates, it forces the body to use an alternative solution and hence uses its fat reserves. This is called ketosis. However, breaking down body fat to use as a fuel source takes much longer compared to glucose and produces ketones. These ketones can cause headaches, foggy-head, fatigue and bad breath in the first 4-7 days while the body gets used to switching over fuel sources. This is known as the “keto-flu”.
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with the source of quick firing energy when we need to sprint or feed the brain during a fight or flight response – it’s the think-quick fuel. The body is designed to have different fuel systems to meet our changing needs and levels of energy output.
It is important to note that carbohydrates are enriched with many micronutrients such as B group vitamins, folate, calcium, fibre and so when carbohydrates are restricted, it is important to ensure you meet these from alternative food sources. Particular groups of people at risk are those over 50 years, pregnant women and children.

Do I have to eat low carb to lose weight?

Research shows that low carbohydrate diets do work, but only in the short term.
Several studies [1,2] show that people following a low carbohydrate diets (Paleo and Ketogenic Diets) lose 4 kilograms more after a 6 month period compared to people who follow the ‘healthy eating’ dietary guidelines, which is considered to be a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Looking further ahead at the 12 month mark, the difference is only 1kg between the low carb and ‘healthy eating’ diets.
The drop out rate of participants in many of these studies was also much higher in the low carbohydrate group compared to the dietary guidelines groups, indicating that adherence long term to a low carbohydrate diet may be difficult to sustain and therefore, why the results end up being similar.

It's also important to note that a low carbohydrate diet may not put you into ketosis, but instead reduces calorie intake which will still result in weight loss (but often not as rapid). 

In summary…

  • Low carbohydrate diets can help you to lose weight in the short term, however you may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies if you don’t balance out your intake
  • Carbohydrates are not that bad! Aim to include more complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest and make you feel fuller for longer
  • Have a think about how often you may be fuelling your body with simple carbohydrates and see if you can make a switch
  • Adherence appears to be the key for long term weight loss success
  • Find a way of eating that suits you!

If you’re confused about what is the best way to eat for you, then contact us today to book your first appointment!

*Content included on this site is prepared as general information only. It is not advice and should not be substituted for personal advice which takes into account your individual health, financial or other circumstances.