Updated: Feb 2
One of the most common question I get asked by clients is, “should I remove carbs from my diet?” Maybe you’ve asked yourself this question. The Keto diet has become very popular and with it comes a lot of confusion and maybe some untrue assumptions about carbs.
Let’s look at some simple points to determine what a good carb intake looks like for you.
Most western cultures (that’s us Americans) overeat processed carbs and under eat protein and healthy fats. If your carb intake is mostly coming from refined or processed carbs like white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, and many breakfast cereals, then yes cutting out those carbs is a great place to start. On the other hand, if you’re mostly eating high-fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables then a moderate amount of carb intake is healthy for you. Do most people need to remove processed carbs from their diets? Yes of course, and you can lose weight by removing carbs from your diet, but that weight loss is not coming specifically from the reduction of carbs.
What are the draw backs of not eating carbs?
Most of us require carbohydrates to perform at our best. If you like to exercise regularly and live an active lifestyle, restricting your carb intake too drastically can have lots of negative side effects: decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol output, decreased testosterone, impaired mood and cognitive function, muscle catabolism, and suppressed immune function. Basically, what that means, is your metabolism slows down, your stress hormones increase, and your muscle building hormones decrease. I don’t think any of us want that!
Keto diets aren’t something new. Low carb diets have been around since the 90s in some capacity - and even earlier than that for different testing purposes - driving the thinking that if you want to lose weight, the first thing that needs to go is carbs. They have great popularity because of the “quick weight loss” you see on a low carb diet. Without the presence of carbs, you will lose some weight quickly from carrying less water and glycogen in your system, not necessarily from fat loss. Over time, most people on a low carb diet even out with other diets in terms of actual fat loss.
The takeaway? Low carb diets are not better for fat loss, but they do have some aspects that you can adopt into your own eating habits. Remember back to the beginning of this article when I mentioned western diets are generally low in protein? Low carb diets usually replace some of those calories with higher protein intake. This has plenty of benefits:
Protein has a higher thermic effect; our bodies use more energy to digest it
Protein makes you feel fuller, longer
Protein helps you retain lean muscle
A study was done with two groups. Both groups were given the same amount of protein, but one group ate about 40% of their calories from carbs, while the other only ate 5%. Subjects on the moderate carb diet reported better mood, both groups lost similar weight and improved insulin sensitivity, but the low carb group increased LDL and inflammatory markers.
So, to answer our original question, should you cut carbs? There are no one size fits all diets. Everyone is different, from carb needs to food preference. Most people function great with a moderate carb intake. Some people will do better with a little higher carb intake or a little lower carb intake. As always, I suggest being your own scientist and figuring out what works for you. Decide your goal, test metrics to know if you’re making progress, and make changes as needed. Don’t like sweet potatoes? Try a different carb source. Avoiding red meat? Great, fish instead. Trying to lower your blood pressure by reducing sodium? Try it and monitor your results. You are unique, so find what works for you.
Strict diets almost never work for people. Why? They aren’t sustainable. What you should do instead is build a routine of healthy eating habits that you can sustain no matter the situation. Travelling? Work event? Party? No problem, you’ve got a system in place.
Need some help getting a system in place? Give us a call, we’re happy to help.