Written By: Nelson Narciso, DNM®
The low-carb diet became all the rage with Dr. Atkins seventh book, Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, published in 1992. Dr. Arthur Agatston's The South Beach Diet (which differentiates between “good carbs” and “bad carbs”) published 11 years later also started quite a diet craze. Variations of these diets have appeared since then, including the Paleo Diet, by Dr. Loren Cordain, which emphasizes the consumption of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils. Although low-carb diets have lost much of their popularity, many of the basic principles are still relevant for anyone wanting to lose weight and keep it off.
Statistics Canada reports that “more than half of the adult population (52%) reported height and weight that classified them as either obese or overweight”.[i] It’s no wonder that with so many people overweight that many adults spend half of their adult lives on one diet or another. Unfortunately, a lot of these diets don’t help in the long term. All too often, a person will lose the weight then gain it all back and then some. This pattern repeats itself and people keep gaining more and more weight with each failed diet attempt.
The Diet Rollercoaster
Every time you follow a calorie-restricted diet (i.e. diets that emphasize eating less or less often) you reset your metabolism. By eating less and less often you lower your metabolic rate and you keep lowering it further with each successive diet. As a result, when you go off your diet you gain weight. One of the nice features of these low-carb diets is that you don’t have to restrict calories. The only main restriction is carb intake. Although many people hear the term carb tossed around they really don’t know what a carb is.
What are Carbs?
Carbs, in very simple terms, are sugars. Potatoes, pasta, bread, rice and fruit are all sources of carbs. We have, as a society, become “carb crazy”. The average individual consumes between 100 to 170 pounds of sugar annually. This isn’t surprising when you consider that a can of cola can contain between 8 to 12 teaspoons of sugar.
Over the years, dieters’ obsession with cutting out fat has led to companies replacing the fat in their foods with sugars. Unfortunately fat-free foods are usually high in carbs to make up for the flavour lost when the fats were removed. Although, as of late, excessive carb intake has been associated with weight gain, there are many other conditions that have been linked to high-carb intake. These include heart disease[ii], cognitive impairment[iii]’[iv], increased free-radical production[v], fatigue, type II diabetes[vi], high blood pressure[vii], cancer[viii], epileptic seizures[ix]’[x], and candida[xi].
Why Carbs Can Make You Fat
Although many people know that restricting carbs leads to weight loss, they don’t understand how this process works. When you eat a high-carb meal, increased blood sugar stimulates the hormone insulin to be produced. A “side effect” of insulin is that carbs are converted into fat and deposited into cells. In addition, it stimulates your brain to produce hunger signals so you eat more. When you decrease carb consumption, insulin levels decrease and glucagon levels increase. Glucagon is a hormone that allows the body to burn more fat while also helping lower cholesterol. The other result of lowering carbs is that your body goes into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when your body burns fat for energy when it doesn’t have carbs to use.
To simply tell you to restrict carbs would be only giving you part of the picture. Many individuals on low-carb diets are making some very poor decisions. You can make your low-carb diet healthier and more effective with the following tips.
10 Tips for Successful Low-Carb Living
- Consume high quality proteins. Lean cuts of meat and fish, whey protein powder (like Progresssive’s Harmonized Protein) and vegetarian protein powders (Progressive’s Harmonized Vegan Protein). Whey, in particular, has tremendous health benefits (Progressive’s product is good because it offers unique therapeutic benefits not found in other protein sources[xii]’[xiii]). Protein has also been shown to keep your metabolic rate higher than if you were on a low-protein diet.[xiv]’[xv] Numerous studies have found that by simply increasing the protein content of your meal you can significantly increase fat burning[xvi]’[xvii]’[xviii]. Protein shakes also offer you the convenience of having a quick and healthy breakfast and a snack between meals when you get hungry.
- When eating carbs choose ones that have a low glycemic index (GI). The glycemic index measures how quickly a carb gets converted into blood sugar. The higher the GI the greater the chance that carb will be converted into body fat[xix]’[xx]’[xxi]. An even more accurate measure than GI is glycemic load (GL). You can get books that list the GL and GI of foods. If you have internet access you can go to www.mendosa.com and you’ll find all the values you need.
- Don’t eliminate healthy fruits and vegetables, but eat ones that have a lower GI/GL. Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamins, minerals and important disease fighting phytochemicals (plant based chemicals). To ensure you’re getting enough fruits and veggies, it’s good to take supplement powders, such as VegeGreens and PhytoBerry. This will help to alkalize your body. If your body is too acidic it promotes mild hypothyroidism[xxii] and decreases muscle mass[xxiii], both of which will reduce your ability to lose body fat.
- Include good fats regularly. Many people are under the impression they can eat all the fat they want and, as a result, are having large quantities of saturated animal fats. Reduce these types of fats and have fish, flax, and olive oils instead. Fish and flax oil are rich in omega-3 fats, which have been shown to help with fat loss.[xxiv] [xxv] Omega-3 fats also lower insulin levels and speed up weight loss.[xxvi]’[xxvii] Fats also make you feel full, so you eat less and they slow the rate carbs get converted into blood sugar [xxviii]’[xxix].
- Consume fiber regularly in your diet. Fiber not only gives you the feeling of being full but it also slows down the rate sugar enters your bloodstream.[xxx] In essence it can lower the GI /GL of carbs.
- Use a multivitamin/mineral formula daily. Unfortunately many low-carb diets are lacking important vitamins and minerals, making supplementation necessary.[xxxi]
- Use a calcium supplement daily. With the increase in meat protein consumption usually associated with this type of diet studies have shown that you lose calcium and increase your risk of osteoporosis making calcium supplementation important.[xxxii]
- The use of supplements that contain garcinia, white kidney bean extract, gymnema, glucomannan, fenugreek, alpha lipoic acid, CLA, cinnamon, and green tea can help balance blood sugar, reduce carb cravings, block carbs from being absorbed, raise metabolism, and reduce food cravings.
- If you get the munchies, instead of reaching for a candy bar have a healthy snack like nuts. Or have some vegetables drizzled with some omega-3 fats.
- Exercise is an integral part of any weight loss program that many people try to ignore. Exercise speeds up metabolism, increases muscle mass, which, in turn, increases fat burning. Aside from the positive effects of exercise on weight loss, it also keeps you healthy and lowers the risk of numerous diseases.
With these simple tips you will not only have more success with your low-carb diet but you’ll be a healthier person for doing it. Good luck!
Nelson Narciso, DNM www.keepwell.ca
[ii] Am J Clin Nutr June 2000 vol. 71 no. 6 1455-1461
[v] Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2000;85:2970-2973
[xiii] Krissansen GW. Emerging health properties of whey proteins and their clinical implications. J Am Coll Nutr 26: 713S– 723S, 2007.
[xv] "International Journal of Obesity;" The Effect of a Low-Fat, High-Protein or High-Carbohydrate Ad Libitum Diet on Weight Loss Maintenance and Metabolic Risk Factors; Claessens M, van Baak MA, Monsheimer S, Saris WH.; 2009
[xvi]Johnston, .S.., Day, C.S., & Swan, P.D. (2002). Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21, 55-61
[xvii] Forslund, A.H., El-Khoury, A.E., & Olsson, R.M., Sjodin, A.M., Hambraeysm L., & Young, V.R. (1999). Effect of protein intake and
physical activity on 24-h pattern and rate of macronutrient utilization. American Journal of Physiology, E39, E964-E976
[xviii] Luscombe, N.D., Clifton, P.M., Noakes, M., Parker, B., & Wittert, G. (2002). Effects of energy–restricted diets containing increased protein on weight loss, resting energy expenditure, and the thermic effect of feeding in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 25, 652-657
[xxi] Slabber, M., Barnard, H.C., Kuyl, J.M., Dannhauser, A., & Schall, R. (1994). Effects of a low-insulin –response, energy-restricted diet on weight loss and plasma insulin concentrations in hyperinsulinemic obese females. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66, 48-53
[xxii] Wiederkehr et al, Swiss Med Wkly. 10:127-132, 2001.
[xxiii] Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:662–5.
[xxiv] J. Nutr. 137: 2629–2634, 2007
[xxv] Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J-M., & Lamisse, F. (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil in body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults.
[xxxii] Low carb diets high in meat protein increase calcium excretion