Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Is Your Low-Carb Diet Making You Fat?

Don't get caught up in the "low-carb" craze

I've just finished reading yet another disturbingly mis-informative article about how "terrible" carbs are and how they are to blame for our health woes. More specifically, this article, published in Chatelaine last month has painted carbs (specifically complex, nutrient-packed ones) as the cause of being overweight or "fat." Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that Chatelaine (one of my favorite Canadian publications!) published this misleading article. Sadly, many innocent readers (especially those who are desperate to lose weight) will take this article to heart and start restricting carbs. That's unfortunate...for many reasons. 

I'm sick and tired of hearing and reading about how carbs are evil. Carbs are fattening. Carbs are addictive. Carbs cause Diabetes. Carbs create belly fat. Carbs are poison. Ugh...PLEEEEEEEASE!!!!! Carbs are ESSENTIAL! They keep is alive! Carbohydrates are our most important source of fuel and energy. Period. 

Your brain's only fuel: Carbohydrates are the brain's only source of fuel. Our brain requires about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day minimum. If you fall short, you'll end up feeling fatigued, not being able to focus or concentrate and becoming irritable and even feeling depressed. Decision-making becomes much harder when your brain isn't fueled well-including decisions about food. Intense carbohydrate cravings surface and as a result, most people overeat or even binge on refined carbohydrate foods. This can happen on a daily basis if not multiple times a day, leading eventually to weight gain.

The "satisfaction component" in meals and snacks: Carbohydrate foods, specifically starchy carbohydrates like breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, baked goods etc. trigger a release of the "happy" hormone Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps you to feel satisfied and satiated after a meal or snack. This hormone helps to make you feel full, both physically and emotionally. When you've eaten a meal that is low-carb or containing no carbs, you may feel physically full (from protein and/or vegetables), but you will not feel satisfied. You'll feel as though something was missing from your meal and start to crave starchy or sweet carbohydrate foods within minutes. This often leads to evening snacking/binging on not-so-healthy foods. When you do include a good source of carbohydrates coming from whole grains or starches, your meal ends up being much more satisfying and you're less likely to go carb-hunting later. 

The Deprivation Cycle: Most women (including me!) naturally love carbohydrate-rich foods. Why wouldn't you?? They taste good, they give you energy and they make you feel good. When you deprive your body of a food that you love, whether it's fresh bakery bread or chocolate, you will be more inclined to binge on it. You want what you can't have. If you forbid yourself from having carb-rich foods, you'll find that they are all that you think about and will likely over-indulge at some point, only to feel guilty and restrict again. Getting caught in this cycle is not going to help in the weight loss department. 

The Risks...

Nutrition deficits: Most low-carbohydrate diets suggest to minimize carbohydrates coming from whole grains and starches, fruits, and even dairy products like milk and yogurt. If someone restricts these foods, they are not only depriving their body's of energy and fuel, but also essential vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants for proper health.

Ketosis: High protein, low-carb diets may also increase the risk of kidney problems, Osteoporosis, heart disease, and Ketosis. Ketosis is a dangerous metabolic state that the body enters when it is severely deprived of carbohydrates. Being in a state of Ketosis can cause organs to fail, Gout, kidney stones and kidney failure. Ketones can also blunts natural appetite and cause nausea and bad breath. 

Enjoy carbs in a healthy way (AND reach your weight loss goals!):

Instead of cutting carbs, enjoy them regularly and in combination with protein. When it comes to grains and starches, focus on whole grains most of the time and indulge in white, refined starches only once in a while. Whole grains are more nutrient-rich and are high in fibre, which can help to keep you fuller longer and stabilize your blood sugar.

Include a whole grain food (bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, cereal etc.) at every meal. If you are trying to trim down, aim for 25% whole grains/starches, 25% protein-rich foods (lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans/lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds etc.) and 50% veggies and/or fruit at your meals. At snacks, focus on vegetables and fruits in combination with protein-rich foods.

Eat every 3-4 hours and give yourself at least 15 minutes to eat. Ditch the deprivation cycle by allowing yourself a treat or two a day (something that you absolutely love) in a small but satisfying amount.