Low Carbohydrate Diet — Fad or Fact?

With an average 1,600 monthly searches, ‘low-carbohydrate diets’ are one of the top-ranked search topics on Google today. Simply ask anyone around you what is needed to lose weight, and they will probably advise you to ‘cut back on the carbs’.

As much as the Internet is raving about the different low-carb diets, the pros and cons vary with how little carbs you go. This guide will explain why a lower-carb diet can achieve your weight loss goals, and yet provides the most health benefits while remaining a sustainable way of eating in the long run.

What is low-carb?
A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates (especially refined) found in sugary food, pasta, and bread. Most of these diets consist only about 10% of calories and encourage controlled consumption of nutrient-dense carbs containing food. Although not restricted; the quality of meats, poultry, fish, butter, and oil is emphasized over quantity. 

Beyond weight loss, some low-carb diets have health benefits, such as reducing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Food that is high in simple carbohydrates, or has added sugars are generally avoided at best while you are on a low-carb diet plan:

  1. White bread/white rice
  2. Pasta
  3. Cakes, pastries, and biscuits
  4. Sugary drinks
  5. Sweets and puddings

Some low-carb diets examples include: ketogenic, low-carb high-fat (LCHF), Paleo and the Atkins diet. All these diets have different restrictions on the type and amount of carbohydrates that you can consume.

Is a low-carb diet suitable for me?
As mentioned earlier, there are several benefits other than losing weight when you embark on a low-carb diet plan.

1. Weight loss

The recommended daily calorie intake* for men (2,200) and women (1,800) are different. Often paired with smaller meal portions and exercises, most people tend to see results in the first 6 months. This is practiced by eating fewer, and healthier calories than your body requires. Being conscious of your calorie intake can help in maintaining a healthy weight, and even shed that few extra pounds!

*Values are based on the average weight and physical activity level of the average male & female Singaporean (HealthHub.sg).

2. Preventing/reversing Type 2 diabetes and protecting against chronic diseases

When our body digests food, it breaks carbs into sugar, which increases our blood glucose levels, producing more insulin. This hormone will then store fat instead of burning it, creating an unhealthy cycle for the body.

By restricting carbs in our diet, it helps in lowering the sugar level and insulin needs, as the amount of carbs we consume have a direct impact on such indicators. High sugar levels may increase the risks of type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Maintaining a low-carb diet can lower your cholesterol level and blood pressure.

3. Curb your appetite

You might notice that you’ve been wanting to put your fork down or delaying your next meal more frequently during your low-carb diet regime. This is because low-carb diets tend to improve satiety and satiation, as stable blood sugars and moderate levels of blood insulin may be partly responsible for these healthy changes. A research has been conducted between low-carb diet and low-fat diet and results have shown that the low-carb participants experienced much lower cravings and were less bothered by hunger compared to the latter.

Should you go low-carb?
In 2012, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted clinical trials on low carbohydrate diet and its effectiveness for weight loss and managing type 2 diabetes. The study spanned across a 2-year period, and included one group of participants with their CSIRO Low-Carb diet, and another with a traditional high carbohydrate, low protein, low-fat diet with the same calories. All participants have type 2 diabetes and were either overweight or obese.

After the trial concluded, the low-carb group saw improvement in their glycaemic stability – the peaks and troughs in their blood glucose levels across the day being balanced by three times compared to the high-carb group. Such signs showed that when blood glucose level is being controlled, it reduces the risk of health complications associated with diabetes. This group of participants also observed better improvement in good fats, and a greater reduction in the bad ones, lowering the risk of heart diseases. 

How much carbs intake to achieve a low-carb diet?
For a start, a simple guide can be as follow:

  • Moderate low-carb — 100g net carbs or below daily
  • Low-carb — 50g net carbs daily
  • Keto — 20g net carbs or below daily

Common mistake
One of the common mistakes people made is not replacing the reduced carbs with sufficient healthy sources of fat. Thus, it is inevitable that people struggle through the day with a lack of energy combined with food cravings. As a result, a failed diet plan happens even before there’s a chance to embark on it. A good rule of thumb is to include natural fats (organic grass-fed butter) as compared to chemically processed ones (margarine). Therefore, choose the right amount of carbs for yourself and don’t be afraid of adding more healthy fat into your diet. 

Many have raved the benefits of adopting a low-carb diet, experiencing effortless weight loss, more energy (after the initial adaptation period), and a healthier relationship with food. And it is no doubt that a low-carb diet does benefit our health, even if weight loss is a secondary priority. 

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