You don’t need to “go keto”, but here are four things you must know about carbs.
With the New Year blazing before us, it’s easy to be drawn into a fad-diet-summer-detox-new-year-new-you wormhole. I know the feeling. As another decade ticks over, all of a sudden, the pressure is on to achieve all you had set out for last year and more. Among many polarising diet trends on the menu (…vegan, plant-based, carnivore, gluten-free, low lectin), low carb still prevails as a diet trend for the new decade. I really wonder if that by another 10 years we will have made enough progress so that low carb might not be called a “diet” but just another way of “healthy eating” that simply embraces natural whole-food. Things are changing…
First, hold your horses. I’m not here to promote a fad. I’m here to provide a nudge of encouragement for how you change your diet today to get back on track with healthy eating. If you fit in with most of our adult population who carry excess body weight around the middle with some degree of insulin resistance, then a low carb diet should be on your radar. However, unlike what fad media may have told you, you don’t have to go keto to feel fit, healthy, and vibrant in the New Year. Your nutrition doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” to get results. A whole-food low carb lifestyle means to be eating more natural whole-food, that also happens to mean less sweets and processed starches.
Keep it simple.
First, clean up the cupboards from junky processed foods and treats. Cut out and clean up chocolate, deserts, alcohol, bread and other savoury starchy treats. This alone will quickly alleviate bloating and fluid retention, and that overall feeling of “blaaahhhh heaviness” which comes with a high carb intake.
Eat natural whole foods. That means foods that aren’t packaged and processed with 3 or more added ingredients.
Simple does it. No need to track and meticulously plan everything. When you make the call to choose only real food, you ends up eating a diet that’s lower in carbs, higher in nutrients (especially protein, fibre, and healthy fat), and hugely anti-inflammatory. You don’t need a green smoothie recipe or a Buddha bowl. Just eat simple meals from protein (meat, fish, eggs, chicken, legumes, beans), vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. Minus the bread, pasta, sweets, snacks, and alcohol.
You’ve got this.
Before you let any hair of doubt get in the way, here are four things you need to know about tackling a lower carb eating approach this year.
Tidy up on refined carbs
Sugar and white flour are refined carbohydrates are not worth your time. They have absolutely no place in an everyday healthy diet. Refined sugar and white flour has minimal to zero nutritional value and is damaging to your health.
Found in heavily processed food products including sweets, sweet drinks, bread, crackers, and bakery items, they are low-cost calorie and flavour fillers. However, with close to zero nutritional value and you’re better off with them out of your mouth and life.
Added sugar, in all its many forms, is devastating to your health. It is touted as the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. Refined white flour comes close as the second worst with having a similar action in the body as sugar.
There is strong compelling science, demonstrating that sugar and refined carbohydrates are at the root of critical society-wide health problems, namely obesity and metabolic disease.
The short and not-so-sweet sweet bottom line is that added sugar and refined carbohydrate is bad news and should not be part of your everyday whole-food lifestyle
Eating fewer carbscan be beneficial for weight loss
If you are carrying body fat around the middle, have high blood pressure, or have abnormal blood sugar levels (swinging on either the low or high end of normal), there’s a good chance that you have some degree of insulin resistance. For a person who is insulin resistant, stubborn body fat or the inability to lose weight results from surrounding cells not being particularly good at handling glucose (aka carbs). Insulin resistance sits on a spectrum of pre-diabetes and type two diabetes, and is also linked to high blood pressure, dementia, and certain cancers.
If you’re looking to lose a stubborn tire of weight sitting around your waistline, then you need to watch how much carbohydrate is in your diet and seriously reduce sugar and starchy foods. This approach is not only effective for weight loss, but it’s known to improve blood glucose control, lipids, and blood pressure in people with high metabolic risk.
There’s a sweet spot for everything, and it might change as your life does
The same eating and lifestyle equation for being healthy and maintaining a healthy weight does not necessarily work for everyone one, or forever.
We tend to be beings of habit; many of us enjoy much of the same for breakfast and lunch most days. However, seasonal changes, changes in hormones, and changes in physical activity can all change our carb tolerance. Being in tune with your body and your nutrition needs is also about being aware of the macro-environment influencing your life and health. Over-restricting carbs closer to the ketogenic end of the spectrum can sometimes lead to disrupted sleep, impaired athletic performance, and difficulty putting on muscle or increasing strength.
If you’ve experienced the benefits of choosing a certain way of eating for weight loss at one point in your life, don’t feel disappointed if this equation doesn’t forever. Sometimes if you find yourself in this sticky space, it can be helpful to take a step back and find a nutrition expert or someone you trust who can provide a third party perspective.
We eat food, not single nutrients
We’re all subject to the latest food trends, articles, and research studies suggesting X, Y and Z foods are now good, bad, and ugly for us. While it’s great to appreciate new science and new learnings, often taking controversial topics distilled down to one-liners can be potentially harmful. Particularly in the context of diet, it’s also important to acknowledge that the influence of food industry has a lot to answer for.
Carbs are neither good nor bad. They are a single nutrient, with the problem being that we eat food, not nutrients. In the context of natural wholefood, carbs are complexly integrated within a food matrix. In both high-er and low-er carb containing whole-foods, there are also many nutrients and health benefits that come from eating them.
Sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips, onions, pumpkin, and carrots are not only carbs, they are nutrient-packed superfoods! They are wonderful sources of phytochemicals, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. These whole-foods are certainly not to be feared. However, in relation to point 2, they may come with some level of awareness related to your heath, weight, and fitness goals.
The take home message:
First and foremost, relax, your ticket to health is not another diet. Keep it simple. Chose to eat minimally processed wholefoods. Don’t eat junk carbs in the form of sugar and flour. Totally avoid processed packaged food.
Lower carb is probably a good idea if you have some level of insulin resistance showing as weight around the middle, high blood pressure, and/or either high or low blood sugar levels.
At times of reaching a plateau, reflect on what in your diet is working and what is not working so well. Getting more extreme with keto or fasting longer is not always the answer. Be open to change.
Choose whole-foods for nutritional value rather than by placing judgement simply on a single nutrient value.