Ahh, our poor misunderstood friends carbohydrates. No one knows whether they love them or hate them, and the amount of confusion around matter is enough to make you not want to eat them again.
And the worst part is, some people don’t.
No-carb and low-carb diets are trends that have haunted the pages of our fitness and beauty magazines for the last couple of decades. However, we’ve never really been given an unbiased look at them. Let me break down for you what they are, why you need them, and what to avoid.
Carbs are our basic source of energy. This energy is otherwise known as glucose. Our brain uses 30% of circulating glucose in our body. There are a few different types of carbohydrates:
Elimination Carbohydrates: Gums and mucilage’s (partially soluble, indigestible), inulin (good for diabetics because it takes longer to break these ones down), starches
Complex Carbohydrates: Cellulose and lignin’s (insoluble fiber), hemicelluloses and pectin’s (soluble fiber)
Simple Carbohydrates: Monosaccharides and disaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose, levulose, lactose, sucrose, maltose)
Your most ideal sources of carbohydrates are amylose, amylopectin, and dextrin (whole grains, vegetables and fruits), as well as glycogen (found in meats and seafood)
Without carbohydrates, your body and brain does not function properly. So what’s with all the diet fads?
Well, the original idea behind low/no carb diets is that all carbs caused excess insulin release – and excess insulin release is associated with health problems. Insulin is a hormone released to regulate blood sugar. This diet was the official diabetes treatment for a while, but in the 1970’s the American Diabetes Association changed this idea because they observed symptoms worsening in patients. They soon adopted a modified, high complex-carb diet. However, the low-carb diet stuck around for non-diabetics. I’ll go over some of the more popular ones, the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, Dr. Bernstein diet, and the GI diet.
The Atkins Diet
Perhaps the most well known of the low-carb diets, this one appealed to many “manly” men, since there is an unrestricted amount of protein foods allowed, as are artificial sweeteners and caffeine. Weight loss occurs due to a change in metabolism called Benign Dietary Ketosis. This happens when there is an intake of less than 30-40 grams of carbs each day. It forces the body to use stored glucose (called glycogen). The weight loss initially is just water and glycogen. The best results were seen in those with hypoglycemia, candidiasis or diabetics. But for the most part, it is detrimental in liver and kidney disease or weakness, colorectal cancer (there’s no fiber in this diet) and atherosclerosis.
The Zone Diet
The idea behind the Zone is that foods have a drug-like effect proportional to the balance of macronutrients in the diet. It requires a precise calorie ratio of carbohydrates:protein:fat of 40:30:30. Put into realistic numbers, this would mean for every 7 grams of protein, you would consume 9 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fat for every meal and single food item. This is supposed to control insulin release, as excess insulin can result in inflammation and body fat storage. The idea makes more sense than the Atkins diet in a lot of ways, but it’s very unrealistic. Very few natural whole foods have this precise ratio. It’s tough for people with wheat or dairy allergies, lactose intolerance and weak digestive systems (which is a large majority of North America). Miscalculating usually means malnourishment. Unless you’re OCD with every morsel that goes into your mouth, it’s not sustainable.
The GI Diet
This diet was developed right here in Toronto! Dr. Jenkins from University of Toronto developed as a tool for diabetic dietary management. It ranks foods on a scale of 0 to 100+ based on how it effects blood sugar levels. The more quickly glucose rises and excess insulin is released, the higher the score. You’re not “supposed” to eat above a score of 69. It’s definitely a great tool to raise awareness of refined carbs, but it doesn’t apply to mixed foods. It only analyses foods on their own. It also doesn’t factor in things that low GI score, like fiber or protein. It also restricts a lot of nutritious whole foods like grains, dates, and watermelon.
The Dukan Diet
This is the newest low carb diet trend. It’s a take off of the Atkins diet. It has a few phases:
One (“Attack Phase”): low-fat protein only, oat bran and water for 5 days
Two (“Cruise Phase”): protein-only days alternated with protein-and-vegetable days. It can last for months at a time if you want to lose a lot of weight.
Three (“Consolidation Phase”): this is the maintenance phase. You can add back in a bit of fruit, bread and cheese and one cheat meal per week.
Four: You can eat basically what you want with one day per week to be protein-only meals.
I don’t know, I don’t like it. It’s apparently very popular. Kate Middleton’s mom is doing it. It just doesn’t seem sustainable – that’s so much protein.
I’ve tried to do low-carb high-protein meal plans for short periods of time, and while some people live on these diets, I just don’t feel balanced. However, I don’t eat bread and pasta. I love some hearty oatmeal and a bowl of quinoa. The body needs carbs. It’s that simple. But it’s about choosing the right types of carbs to consume. Pastries, cookies and whole wheat bread are not the right kinds. Need some help? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org