A Dietitian's Take on Low Carb Diets
We hear it all the time - carbs are the worst. They are the enemy. Don't eat bread or pasta- it will make you fat. Go gluten free. But are these things even true? It's time to settle the discussion...
The answer is complicated. While I believe that you shouldn’t identify foods as “good” or “bad,” there are choices that are better and healthier than others - and this is particularly evident with carbohydrates. There is room for everything in a healthy diet, it’s a matter of making the best choice most of the time and fully enjoying treats when you choose to indulge in them.
When it comes to carbs, there are several variables to keep in mind. First of all, carbohydrates come in many forms. Grains, starches, milk and yogurt, beans and legumes, fruit, starchy vegetables, and foods containing sugar are all sources of carbohydrates. Many of these foods are absolutely healthy and should certainly be included in a healthy diet! Truly going low carb means avoiding things like fresh fruit, whole grains, yogurt, and beans. These are all foods that I highly recommend eating for various reasons.
Now that you know where carbs come from (quick review: tons of foods and food groups), you can see how difficult it is to actually follow any type of low carbohydrate diet. And there is no reason to want to! Your body requires carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar from going too low (please note that diabetics require strict carbohydrate control to maintain blood sugar within goal parameters - if you are diabetic, please see my services page and make an appointment so we can discuss the right kinds and amounts carbs for you!). Your brain requires carbohydrates as its main source of fuel to maintain sharp thinking and healthy decision making skills. Your muscles need carbohydrates so they can fire rapidly so you can walk to your appointments, take the stairs, or complete every last rep.
So do I recommend low carb diets for health or weight loss? Absolutely not. Carbs can be a major source of healthy nutrients and energy, as long as you are choosing the right ones.
This means that most of the time, aim for whole grains instead of refined grains (or gluten free whole grains if you have Celiac disease). Choose whole fresh or frozen fruit instead of fruit juice or fruit-flavored snacks. Include beans and legumes regularly. Choose dairy from sources you trust, and double check to make sure it isn’t loaded with extra sugars (those yogurts can be tricky). By all means eat peas, corn or sweet potatoes on occasion - they contain carbs, but they also contain vitamins and minerals that are important. Besides, I fully believe fresh sweet peas are one of life’s greatest joys when spring rolls around!
Not only that, but studies have recently shown that people lose the same amount of weight, whether they follow a low-carb or low-fat diet. This means that calories count - as long as you are using a balanced approach and eating healthful foods, avoiding carbs is not the only way to cut calories! (1)
Balance those carbs at each snack with a healthy fat or protein source (or both if you are having a meal) to keep your blood sugar nice and steady. This will help you stay satisfied longer, and keep brain fog at bay.
If you have questions about the right kinds or amounts of carbs for you, then you’re in luck! As a registered dietitian, I can help you answer those exact questions to build a nutrition game plan that is perfect for you and your body. Click on my services page to schedule your free 15-minute discovery call - I can answer any of your questions, and we can choose the right virtual visit plan for you.
What questions do you have about carbs? What are your favorite health carb foods?
(1) Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin SecretionThe DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245