“It’s just another low carb, fad diet…”
This is what I recently heard from a nutritional expert when they were asked why so many celebrities, sportspeople, and regular folk alike were ditching the carbs.
First Thing: We’re going through a health crises in this nation. We have 1.5 million diabetics (2007 data) with a projected minimum 3.3 million by 2030. If this doesn’t bother you then maybe the cost will – we’re currently spending 17.5% of our health budget on diabetes management, that’s $71.12 billion, and this is projected be 65% in 2030. Head to Dr. Gary Fetke’s page for more on the numbers.
Second Thing: “Yeah all I did was cut down on my sugar and I lost 5kg and feel great!” “Yeah, I just started adding healthy fats into my diet and all of my sugar cravings went away.” I hear these on a weekly basis from happy clients that have simply cut their intake of carbohydrates and are enjoying healthy results. Surely there’s more to this ‘fad.’
Third Thing: Low carb has been used by the medical community for years, and is backed up by mountains of evidence from Randomised Controlled Trials…. Feel free to skip my post and read about them here. Biggest takeaway from these studies is the effect on metabolic syndrome. Improvements in abdominal obesity, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels are all symptoms that have been drastically improved by going low carb.
“What, so carbs are evil?! Carbs are the enemy?! Should we start taking peoples rice away…”
No, no and no. I do not believe that low – carb is going to save the world, and they can serve a useful purpose in our diets. I do believe calling low carb a ‘fad diet’ is sending the wrong message to people that could seriously benefit from this intervention.
“Okay, sounds good, but what does a low carber actually eat?!?”
Well, a low – carber would omit breads, pastas, cereals from their diet and reduce their consumption of starchy vegetables, fruit and seeds. To replace these, they’d increase their intake of dietary fat and protein. So, their diet may look like something like 40% of calories coming from fat (9cal/g), 40% coming from protein (4cal/g), and 20% from carbohydrates (4cal/g), which are usually all in the form of vegetables. Protein and fat consumption may change for each individual, but the key point is keeping carb intake low.
But percentages and calories aren’t really my thing, so to make this simpler, a low carbers day might look like this:
Breakfast: 3 egg Omlette (cooked in butter) with goats cheese and a black coffee.
Lunch: Seafood salad, with a generous serving of olive oil.
Dinner: Coconut lamb curry, with plenty of coconut milk and natural spices – no crap from a bottle.
Weird? Unbalanced? EXTREME?!? I’ll let you be the judge.
Our Dietitions’ Association has labelled this way of eating ‘dangerous’ as it omits key ‘food groups.’ These food groups they’re referring to are breads, pastas and cereals which apparently hold ‘vital nutrients’ that are essential for living (they love talking about the fibre thing…. learn more about fibre here). Our nutrition authorities love grains so much, that they recommend 6 – 11 servings of them per day… To understand the ridiculousness of this, that means that if I ate 22 slices of bread tomorrow, that is part of the makeup of a healthy ‘balanced diet.’ I hope you pick up on my tone here… Not only do grains contain no vitamin or mineral that cannot be attained in greater amounts from elsewhere, they’re a poor source of nutrition that lead to a host of problems such as weight gain, GI impermeability, and nutrient malabsorption.
So, here’s what a low carb diet does, and here’s WHY it works:
1. It makes you JERF!
Cutting carbs leads to the elimination of foods that simply are not real – cakes, biscuits, breads, cereals, crackers – these foods are dead. Dead in nutrient density and dead in enzymes… They’re so dead in enzymes that they have artificial enzymes added to make them digestible – check out your ingredients list on breakfast cereals for proof here. What low carbers find is that they start eating more avocados, butter, nuts, fish and coconut products. These are all extremely high in nutrients, have natural enzymes and are just real food!
2. It produces ketones
Ketosis, in short, is the body burning fat for energy. Yes, fat, the one thing that we need more of in order to burn. And ketosis doesn’t stop there! The production of ketones bring a sustained, gradual release of energy throughout the day – this is compared to the rapid ups and downs of sugar burning. You can test this out by having a high protein and fat breakfast, like my breakfast above, and see how long you stay satiated for – for me it’s until around 3pm. Be aware that ketosis takes time and careful implementation, read this guide for more on ketosis.
3. It’s highly satiating.
A bowl of cereal or a piece of salmon? One is high in carb (cereal). One is high in protein/fat. Which one will keep you satiated for longer? And why the salmon? Well, eating a diet that is rich in protein and fat will improve our sensitivity to the appetite regulating hormone, leptin (more about this below). Again, can you test this out at home. What makes you satiated? what makes you full? Your findings may reveal why you can’t just have one square of chocolate.
4. It leads to a fat loss.
Following on from points 2 and 3, a low carb diet is very powerful for fat loss. The production of ketones for fat burning is only possible when we take in solid amounts of dietary fat! Yes! That million dollar ‘low fat’ slogan has zero scientific basis. Have a look at the studies that have compared low fat and low carb diets – yes, you may now laugh at your friends who order a ‘skinny latte.’
Graph: Comparison of weight lost in Randomised Controlled Trials for low carb diets vs low fat diets.
Source: Authority Nutrition. http://authoritynutrition.com/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/
5. You regulate insulin and leptin levels (again, fat loss)
If there were two hormones that were responsible for obesity then these two would be it. Insulin is secreted due to increased blood sugar levels, and leptin regulates our appetite – both are big contributors to fat storage. And what damages our insulin and leptin receptors? Stress, lack of sleep and excess CARBOHYDRATES! Yes! There is a reason that we get insane sugar cravings and can’t just have one square of chocolate – our insulin and leptin signals are taking control here. By choosing diet that’s low in carbs with healthy fats, you’re increasing your insulin sensitivity (good thing) and allowing your body to access fat stores – more about this here.
6. It improves brain function
Only my ketosis friends will back me up here, because everyone who’s been in it knows the clarity and peace of mind that one gets with ketones fueling the brain. And there’s no existential reason for this, it’s most likely that your brain is going through autophagy, which is like a decluttering system for our cells. When we eat a low carb diet and produce ketones, we also produce lysosomes that break down old and battered proteins – this is also a proven anti ageing technique and is part of the reason that fasting is all the rage at the moment. It’s also worth noting that the brain is made up of 60% fat…. kind of makes a low fat diet a ‘dumb’ idea…. Get it?!
So, adopting a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet can be extremely beneficial for those who want to lose weight, improve energy and brain function. Am I saying that a LCHF diet is for everyone…. NO. In fact, I consume a moderate amount of carbohydrates (vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets) to compliment my training. There are also populations that eat a high carbohydrate diet (none of which are from modern grains) and have virtually no record of dietary disease. However, in this society that has 280 new diabetics daily, and predicts 80% of its adults to be overweight in ten years, then maybe we should look at the evidence behind the LCHF approach, or at least stop ordering skinny lattes.
Steve Hennessy is the owner of Barefoot Health, a personal training company in Melbourne, Australia. He’s a student of Chiropractic at RMIT and is studying to become a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner.