We have four macronutrients in our diet: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins. People try to play with intake of each of these for losing weight. Especially, there are die hard advocates of low fat diet or low carb diets.
What is Low-Carb Diet?
While following this diet, you will be reducing your daily intake of carbohydrates and compensate this with one of the other macronutrients i.e. protein or fats.
But carbohydrates are one of the important nutrients in our diet. Therefore, we should be careful about the level of reduction from our diet. In fact brain can only use energy from carbs. Therefore, often severe cutting back on carbs from diet results in dizziness and other related issues
So how many carbs in a low carb diet are usually recommended? Some of the extreme low carb diets drastically cut your carb intake. For example, Atkins diet would require you to limit your carb intake to a maximum of 20g per day. Compare this to recommended daily intake of 130g per day.
When you cut back on carbs, you compensate your calorie deficiency by either taking in more protein or fats. Example of a low carb and high protein diet is Atkins. Ketogenic diet is one of the most popular examples of a high fat diet.
It is also worth noting the calories per gram in each of the macronutrients. According to dietary guidance by the US Department of Agriculture, carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram and fats are packed with 9 calories in each gram.
Look for an a carb calculator app or on Google and you will find many options to keep track of your carb calories. For example if you would look for how many carbs in a banana, you will get the result that it has about 23 grams per 100g serving.
Types of Carbs
Before we go further, it is important to know what are different types of carbs and how they are digested in our body.
Primarily carbs are of two types.
Simple carbohydrates are made from smaller molecules and digested quickly and become part of our blood supply rapidly. Simple sugar based foods like lollipop and sugar itself are examples. Sugars are also found in fruits but this is a more nutritious options because our bodies have to work harder to digest fruits than simple sugars. Plus fruits are packed with nutritious elements like fiber and vitamins etc.
Complex carbohydrates have complex molecular structures and take longer to be converted to sugar/energy and become part of blood stream. Another related thing is insulin which is released by our pancreas when our sugar levels rise in blood. Insulin’s function is to transport this energy from blood into our cells for use by body.
Some of the examples of complex carbs are rice, pasta, crackers and bread. Again there are good and bad complex carbs. Healthier options are whole grains which have other nutrients and fiber too alongside carbs. (1)
Benefits of Low Carb Diet
One thing is sure that high carb diet is not good for our health due to multiple reasons. A diet rich in carbohydrates has been linked with obesity. There is also evidence that a diet loaded with carbs increases risk for heart disease. (2)
When we eat carbs, they are transported to our body cells by insulin released by pancreas. This is accompanied by feeling of hunger, which essentially means that we eat more food.This may be reason that high carb diet causes obesity. (3)
On the other hand, a low carb diet has been clearly linked with weight loss, which also affects other health areas like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
How much weight you can Lose on Low-Carb Diet?
You might surely be curious to know how much weight you can lose on a low carb diet. In one study published in Annals of Internal Medicine, it was observed that subjects were able to lose as much as 9.4 kg over a period of 24 weeks on a low-carb diet. (4)
In another medical study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was noted that participants were able to lose about 7 percent of their body weight in 6 months. (5)
Another study also confirmed benefits of low carb diet and showed that those following a low-carb and calorie unrestricted diet could lose up to 5.5 kg over a two periods. This might not be the answer to how to lose 20 pounds in a week, but it is definitely an indicator of long term weight loss. (6)
What to eat
The key is to know the high carb foods to avoid and the low carb foods to eat. But it is also important that you do not decrease your carb intake extremely low. In that case your body will not be getting sufficient energy to function.
Sustainable weight loss essentially means eating weight loss friendly foods and eating in moderation.
So here are some of the foods you should be including in your diet (from carb macronutrient group):
- Protein. Of course you have to make up for the loss of calories from carbs. And proteins are your friends. However, they are better than carbs in nutritional value. While packed with the same calories per gram, they take longer to digest and reduce insulin spikes, A food rich in proteins has been shown to help with weight loss. In fact, it might be possible that low carb diet success is due to high protein content in diet. (7) Harvard School of Public Health recommends that a significant portion of your protein intake should come from plant sources. Eat less of red meat and more of chicken, fish, beans (black and soybeans). (8)
- Low carb vegetables. Some of the good options with very few carbs are bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, eggplant, green beans, cauliflower, mushrooms and zucchini. Of course, vegetables like potato, peas, sweet potatoes, taro and Yam are starchy vegetables with higher carb content.
- Low carb fruits. While selecting fruits you need to ensure that you avoid juice, even if its coming from fresh fruits. Juices have high sugar content and will surely induce hunger cycle because of insulin release quickly. Some of the fruits with low carb are berries, watermelon, avocados, cantaloupe, honeydew and peaches.
- Low carb snacks. Of course we need to eat and munch between meals and most of the times we made very unhealthy choices. Pick snacks that are healthy and low carb content. Some of the options are mixed nuts, baby carrots, unsweetened low-fat yogurt, hard boiled eggs and cheese.
- Low carb fast food. Yes it is possible to indulge in occasional fast food treat while being on a low-carb diet. KFC grilled chicken is a good healthy option. Another option is sub-in-a-tub which will help you avoid about 40 grams of carbs straight away if you forego bun.
How to Make a Low Carb Diet Successful
Here are a few tips to make sure your die program succeeds and you do not end up adding even more layers of fat at the end of the diet plan.
- Remember to exercise. At the minimum, you should be exercising 150 minutes every week which is recommended by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. For best weight loss benefits from exercise, increase the duration to 300 minutes.
- Plan your meals every week. When you have not prepared your meals in advance, you are most likely to eat unhealthy foods loaded with carbs. So every week, plan your meals with low carb in focus.
- Read food labels. Make it a habit to read food labels because they provide useful information. For example, you will be surprised to know that a 100 gram dark chocolate has massive 546 calories, exclusively originating from sugars and carbs. Similarly a 12 oz can of soda has 150 calories, all coming from carbohydrates.
Low Carb Diet Side Effects
It depends on what kind of low carb diet you follow. If you do not follow some of the extreme diets like Keto or Atkins, and instead make healthier choices by focusing more protein but at least keep eating 50 g of carbs every day, you will not notice any serious side effects.
However, if you choose an extreme version then obviously you will be going against the healthy diet recommendation. This will deprive your body of an essential macronutrient. Some of the side effects might include brain fog, energy deficiency, nausea, bad breadth , palpitations, headaches and constipation.
Needless to say that you can not follow any extreme diet for long term. If you continue with a low carb diet for a long term, you run the risk of nutrient deficiency, digestive issues and brittle bones.
The bottom line
Following a low carb diet for weight loss is backed by science. However, it is not recommended to decrease your carb intake drastically. An in no case you should be starving yourself by going below the minimum recommended daily calories of 1600 for women and 2000 for men because you might lose weight this way but it is not healthy weight loss. Any calorie deficit should come from a combination of eating healthy and exercise.