What’s all the fuss about low carbohydrate diets?



There are ways we can use modifications to the diet and exercise habits instead of medications to improve health and wellbeing. People are frequently asking about how they can use diet and nutrition to improve their health and one particular area gaining increasing attention is the low carbohydrate diet.

Low carbohydrate diets are not new and take many forms. The idea of reducing carbohydrate intake was first popularised by William Banting, a British undertaker in the 19th century, and then again by the ‘Atkins Diet’ in the 1980s. More recently you may have heard reference to low carb, high fat (LCHF), ketogenic, paleo and caveman/carnivore diets.

What are carbohydrates?

To make things simple, dietary carbohydrates are broken down into three broad groups:

  1. Green carbs: naturally occurring sugars and starches in fruits and vegetables.
  2. Beige carbs: Grain-based carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta, noodles, cereals and oats.
  3. White carbs: refined sugars added to sweets, cakes and confectionary as well as many processed foods/soft drinks.

What all carbohydrates have in common is that they are broken down by our bodies into glucose which is used for energy or stored for future energy needs. The reason I think it’s useful to divide carbohydrates in this way is that green carbohydrates (which contain fewer sugars and more fibre) are broken down more slowly and incompletely by the body causing a smaller rise in blood glucose levels. They also tend to contain other useful nutrients not found in beige or white carbohydrates.

Do we need carbohydrates?

This is a matter of some debate. The short answer is yes, carbohydrates can be a useful source of energy and it is generally not recommend to have zero carbohydrate diets. What is also true, however, is that many people are consuming more carbohydrates than their bodies need and for many years dietary guidelines in most countries have overstated the proportion of our intake which should come from these foods.

What are the consequences of carbohydrate excess?

Obesity is the most significant physical health problem facing us in the 21st century. It already affects 4 in 10 adults in the USA. The underlying health implications of obesity are many but the most important ones in relation to carbohydrate intake are type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. There appears to be a correlation with the increase in these conditions over the past 50 years and increasing carbohydrate intake across society. Eating carbohydrates raises our blood glucose level and so the body releases insulin in response. Over time we can become resistant to insulin resulting in weight gain and some of the issues listed above.

So should everyone be reducing their carbohydrate intake?

Maybe, but it is best for individual patients to get tailored recommendations. The imperative for someone with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome to reduce their intake is stronger than for a person without these conditions. There are various tests we can do to establish a person’s risk, from blood tests and heart scans, to continuous glucose monitoring with skin sensors to work out which carbs in particular do not work for you.

What should I eat instead?

The other macronutrients found in the human diet are fat and protein. Fat has long been demonized as unhealthy but it is actually filling and provides our bodies with a useful source of energy. Protein is found mainly in animal products: meat, fish and dairy.  a diet similar to a typical Mediterranean diet based around whole, rather than processed foods and rich in fats (fish, olive oil, avocado, meat) and vegetables is recommended. Low-fat dairy products or avoidance of butter is not generally recommended unless patients want to. In terms of carbohydrate intake, it is better for the source to be from vegetables and high fibre whole grains rather than refined or sugary foods. In some patients intermittent fasting techniques is recommended to boost the effects of carbohydrate reduction.

Achieving your lifestyle goals

Dietary intake needs to be tailored to your individual needs and preferences and takes into account other factors like exercise levels, family history and other medical conditions you may have. The most important factor of all is that any dietary changes need to be sustainable for you in the long term. There is no point struggling to adhere to a diet that you don’t enjoy as this will never last!

Call 6733 4440 or visit https://www.imc-healthcare.com to book an appointment if you would like to discuss with a DR. 

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