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Common Mistakes Eating Low Carb

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by Nancy Weyrauch Mehlert, MS

Controlling carbohydrates is critical to weight loss, reducing inflammation, and managing all disease models. All carbohydrates are primarily glucose and fiber molecules. The glycemic impact of a carbohydrate is determined by how quickly the body breaks them down and releases the glucose into the blood stream. The faster a carbohydrate converts to glucose, the higher the glycemic index. Low glycemic index carbohydrates are usually vegetables and fruits. Higher glycemic index carbohydrates include all processed and baked breads/pastries, donuts, pastas, potatoes, rice, and cereals. Of course, all sugar in drinks, desserts, and candy are included as well. Glycemic impact increases in the absence of fiber, fat, and protein, all three of which help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates into glucose, especially fat and fiber. Fat and fiber also contribute best to being satiated.

Over the past two decades, there have been hundreds of studies consistently showing low or very low carbohydrate diets to be beneficial. We often term these dietary lifestyles as keto or ketogenic. Another familiar lower carb lifestyle is called Whole30. In 2018, the American Diabetes Association Nutrition Committee reported agreement that evidence for a low carb or very low-carb diet is beneficial for Type 2 diabetes more so than any other diet tested, including Mediterranean diets and the DASH diet.

In our practice, we are advocates of a lower carbohydrate diet for most adults because it supports reduction of inflammation, congestion, fat storage, imbalanced blood sugar levels – all of which lead to the lifestyle diseases of our day. It also points people back to eating real whole food – especially vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other healthy fats. Most people need more of these in their diets for fiber and the plentiful micro-nutrients and vitamins found in them.

As you consider your diet, especially if you are working toward a very low carbohydrate diet, there are two important mistakes to avoid.

  • First, while processed sugars and grains are certainly a significant contributor to obesity and ill-health, the types of fats you eat play an equally important role. Inflammatory fats, high in Omega 6’s and usually damaged (i.e., oxidized/rancid), can be worse than excess sugar. Especially harmful are canola, safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oil. Common in salad dressings, packaged and pre-prepared foods, all restaurant food – their removal, or minimization is mission critical to successful weight loss and reduction of inflammation and illness. These vegetable seed oils damage mitochondria in the cells and impact metabolic functioning. The oxidative stress results in insulin resistance just as sugar does.
  • Second, if you are using intermittent fasting and eating low to very low carbohydrate every day, over time this may actually make you more sensitive or intolerant to many healthy foods, causing you to restrict or narrow your diet too far. Generally, a low or very low carbohydrate diet would range in Net Carbohydrates [carbohydrates minus fiber] between 25 to 85 grams per day. What we are suggesting here is to pop out above that range at certain intervals to keep your metabolism flexible. You don’t want your body to lose its ability [i.e. flexibility]to handle a higher carbohydrate range when needed.

For the individual working to lose unwanted weight, this means having one or two days per week where you bump your carb intake above your normal range by 100-200% of your target to maintain flexibility.

If you are at your ideal weight, maintaining with a low carb diet, it may be best to alternate days of very low carb with double or triple the intake to maintain metabolic flexibility. My personal low carb range is between 25-30 net carbohydrates each day. Since my weight is normal, two or three days each week, I will range up to 50-75 net carbohydrate grams in a day. By alternating, I have the ability to deal with a higher carb intake from time to time without a net gain in weight. My body burns fat efficiently in the low carb days, and does not over-react by storing fat or elevating blood sugar on the pop-out days. That’s metabolic flexibility.

This gives you tolerance to eat a wide range of healthy choices and maintain good nutrition. It is not meant to be an excuse to eat junk food. The point here is to add in healthy nutrient-dense choices such as beans, beets, sweet potato, potato, rice, quinoa, an extra piece of fruit, or a gluten free oat item. Live well!

Mercola, Joseph. The Case for Keto, accessed October 2021 from www.mercola.com

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