Dr Susan Baxter
Is low carb safe? What is the nutritional key to living longer?
Updated: Feb 28
People these days are quick to blame carbohydrates as the cause of excess fat. However, any food, when eaten at a surplus to the requirements of the body will result in fat accumulation. This is applicable to protein, fat and carbohydrate. For more information on why the scales don't go down, read this. The bad reputation that has been surmounted around carbohydrates out of these three macronutrients is that many of the high incentive and comfort foods are carbohydrate rich.
Contrary to the theories of the low-carb/no carb diet, it’s eating too many calories, that increases fat.
That is not to recommend loading up on sugary and refined-carbohydrate-rich foods, such as doughnuts. These foods have been linked to raising your risk of developing health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you cut out the whole food sources of carbohydrates, you miss out on your body’s primary and preferred source of fuel. You also miss vital nutrients and fiber.
Short term, low carbohydrate diets are so effective because they are so restrictive. They limit what you can and cannot eat (more than other diets). Long term, after a year or as much as three years, weight-loss differences between all varieties of diets tend to balance out. One recent report noted that although there was a greater weight loss initially, low-carb dieters tended to regain more weight by the end of three years when compared with low-fat dieters.
The grain of truth in this misconception is two fold: 1. If you eliminate carbohydrates you essentially are eliminating a whole group of foods and limiting your options. Therefore indirectly the overall calories and amount of food that you are eating has become reduced. The same kind of effect can be achieved by eliminating any food that starts with the letter ‘b’ or ‘j’.
The second of these is that carbohydrates, when stored as glucose in the body stores water with it. Therefore for every 1 gram of glucose stored in your body in muscle glycogen, there is 4 grams in total (since 3 grams of water is stored with it). The body stores between 250-400g of glycogen in muscle (depending on your muscularity), meaning that when following a reduced carbohydrate diet it is possible to drop a lot of weight quite rapidly. The truth is that this weight loss is not fat loss but instead water weight.
Whilst such rapid weight loss might sound manageable or appealing, carbohydrates are an extremely important macronutrient: they are your body’s first choice for use as an energy source. Carbohydrates actually have an impact on the satiety hormones released by the brain to reduce cravings and appetite according to research published in the Scientific Journal of Diabetes (2012).
The best method for weight maintenance according to scientific studies is not whether it is low carbohydrate verses low calorie, it’s the ability for longevity in the diet. Therefore whatever diet you follow, provided that it is followed for a relative period of time, you will ensure weight loss.
To throw further controversy to this topic, read about the interesting observational nutrition study on living longer which found that, against the current trend of eating less carbohydrates, the study participants had higher carb, lower protein diets and were more likely to live to 100 years old…
Note that they also were found to have (as part of this longevity): low BMI across lifespan; reduced their calories as they aged (metabolism drops); low weight fluctuations across the lifespan; traditional diet composition (more wholefood). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17986602
The take home message: Carbohydrates are often readily available as high incentive items: think doughnuts, chocolate muffins, bagels. These items which are ‘carbohydrates’ are extremely energy dense foods. Carbohydrates are not the enemy, and excess of calories however are. Reducing the amount of high incentive and processed carbohydrates from the diet is certainly a healthy approach to nutrition, the elimination of carbohydrates however, is probably not advisable or sensible.
Have carbohydrates, but have them in moderation. Eat in a sustainable way, and aim for wholefoods. Read my post about the ultimate healthy eating guide.
Reach out to us if you have any questions.