Low Carb Diet – fad or future #fadorfuture

Why I attended – Recently I attended a 90 minute webinar on the low carb diet approach with the question being raised – are they a fad or the future.  I attended for a number of reasons.  Nutrition can get pretty confusing, even for me, so I do a little study each year on eating trends just to see what’s changed.  I’ve got to say I’ve seen huge numbers of people on social media talking about low carb diets, but what has concerned me is that this is often in the context of significant weight loss paired with heavy exercise routines, followed by a return to more regular eating habits and therefore weight gain,  reduced exercise, and around the cycle goes.  I do not see moderation.  I do not see sustained weight loss.  It seems to me that low carb diets seem to be the latest yoyo diet.   Can we live a different way?  Our nation is getting fatter with 65% of adults either overweight or obese.  We have to change, and there is some interesting research out there around certain high risk groups that challenge the way dietary guidelines recommend we eat.  So I paid my money and attended this webinar presented by Matt O’Neill , Penny Taylor and Tim Crowe – all highly regarded.  I’ve been to many of Matt’s seminars at Filex National Fitness Convention – his stuff is always well researched and from large scale, peer reviewed, well regarded sources.  I trust his opinion.  But first things first . . . how low should you go.

What is a low carb diet?

This image defines eating routines from ketogenic (very low carb diets) through to high carb diets.

I wonder if this table makes sense to you, I’ll try to help you with that if it does not.  Many foods have a certain amount of carbohydrate (in grams) within them – this has nothing to do with their weight.  The only way to know how many grams of carb your food has is to look on the nutrition label of the food or use an app like MyFitnessPal or Calorie King.  Sugar = carbs, and pasta and bread, fruit and vegetables (and many other foods) all contain different levels of carb.  At this point I really wanted to show you an example of a list of fruits and vegetables and their carb’s in grams – this one serves the purpose.  From my experience it is very difficult indeed to be on a very low carb ketogenic diet (carb intake between 20-50 grams a day), it is very restrictive and you can not assume that all foods considered healthy are low carb enough to be included in this approach.   But if you are unwell you’ll be more motivated than me 🙂 and this is an approach that will be recommended by your doctor or dietitian (not your Fitness Professional).  I’ve seen a few PT’s leading the charge with this approach with hazard lights on . . . “don’t do this for more than a few weeks”.  Look again at the above table – it goes on to define low carb, moderate carb, and high diet approaches in terms of how many carbs you consume in grams, within a diet that has a 2,000 calorie intake.  If you routinely eat more or less than this these amounts will need to be adjusted.  If you do not want to keep a food diary this approach is not for you.  Also remember that no diet / tweaking of carbs, fat and protein content will help you lose weight if you are eating too much. 

So why might you try a low carb diet?

If you want to try a low carb diet it’s most likely to be for health reasons like losing weight, controlling diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  It is difficult not to be impressed by the very public fans of  low carb diets – they demand our attention on social media as celebrities, family and friends.  Everyone loves a weight loss story (how’d you do it . . .  what’s your secret . . . . PM me I’ll tell you)  before and after shots.  Everyone has an opinion (and I’m told personal testimonies sell more stuff than facts and figures), loads of celebrities / personal trainers / foodies have cookbooks, video series,  products you can buy to get the result you are wanting.  In other words they have a vested interest.  I always say only accept information if they are not trying to sell you something, and then make sure it is well researched, from large scale and peer reviewed, well regarded sources.  Do not be influenced by testimonies.  If an article claims to be funded / endorsed / based on research by  “** ACME LOW CARB DIETS R US” be cynical.  All that glitters is not gold.  This type of company is often funded and biased towards the company funding it, providing ‘evidence’ that is testimony based or small scale and not entirely credible.  NB ** ACME LOW CARB DIETS R US is not a real company.  So if you are still reading this you’d probably want to know . . .

How do low carb diets work?

The quick answer to this question is in the fact that our body easily and readily uses fats and carbs in the bloodstream to fuel our energy systems.  It doesn’t really use protein as an energy source so if a diet is rich in protein and low in carbs the body will seek out the next easy to utilise fuel for energy – body fat.  That’s why the low carb approach is so effective short term – it draws on fat stores to fuel it’s energy needs.  Be aware though that quick weight loss is often the result of a kind of cellular dehydration, this is not actual body fat loss.  I digress . . . . This fabulous slide by Matt O’Neill explains the complexity of this question.

At this point you probably feel I do not support low carb diets.  This is not true.  I’m saying it is not my role as a Fitness Professional to promote very low carb diets (ketogenic).  If you look closely at this slide you will see a whole bunch of reasons why you should consider a low carb diet.  Actually I prefer to market low carb completely differently – it’s called clean eating.  It’s where we remove added sugar, eat less processed food and remove processed food from the diet, we remove alcohol, fizzy drinks and packaged food and consequently we eat more vegetables.  Take a look at these frightening statistics:

  • Hardly anyone is eating enough vegetables – 6.8%.
  • 35% of the average diet comes from ‘discretionary foods’ ie junk foods
  • Sugar is a clear focus for attention with the average person consuming 105 grams of sugar a day, while the World Health Organisation recommends 54grams (or 12 teaspoons)

If you address these 3 points you will be eating a whole lot less carbs, and if you reduce bread and pasta, sweets and treats, rice and biscuits you’ll probably find yourself within the 50-130 grams a day low carb diet range, as long as you are moderate with high sugar fruits.  This is not extreme, it is sustainable, and it’s a healthy and moderate way to go.  However if you are looking at or advised to go on a very low carb diet for the sake of your health you’ll be receiving individualized attention with all aspects of your health considered from your doctor or dietitian.  I hope.

How do low carb diets compare to other dietary approaches?

It really is hard to get definitive answers on dietary approaches as there are so many variables, so large scale longitudinal studies are vital.  There is little doubt that low carb diets do show greater weight loss short term and this seems to be an important factor for motivation and gaining confidence in the ones ability to lose weight.  Long term however we really should be focusing on maintaining weight loss through sustained behavior change.  Twelve months after the very low carb diet (ketogenic) participants were found to have .9 kg greater loss than those who took part in different approaches to weight loss.  In my mind this is really not all that significant.

So, what else do I have for you?  Low carb and mood

Penny spoke a little about this and I will share this slide of hers with you.  But I think it’s safe to summarize and say for the person who has got beyond a challenging 3-5 days of reducing carbs down to a lower threshold feelings can be very positive as they see weight start to shift and gain confidence in the process.  Note was made of the client who perhaps had long standing depression perhaps would be adversely affected by the low carb approach.  A constant theme throughout the webinar was the need for an individualised approach.

I hope I have done this webinar justice – remember it was 90 minutes + in duration and I have cherry picked what I think will be of most interest to you.  I would like to conclude now by pointing out a few truths that I thought essential for you to consider:

  • where you are at now – are you best served by a drastic change or a gradual behavioral change ?
  • Focus on the themes of many eating approaches (vegetarianism, paleo, Mediterranean, low carb) – points of agreement seem to be increase vegetable consumption, reduce added sugar, eat healthy fats, avoid processed food
  • consider your individual needs particularly if you have a number of medical complexities
  • what’s worked in the past
  • there are many, many ways to lose weight
  • consider a low carb approach – or lower than you currently are – there seem to be many health benefits

Q and A at the end of the webinar – here’s the ‘quick as’ summary

  • Fruit yay or nay – if you are looking to reduce carbs you’ll probably be swapping fruit for a low carb veg
  • fibre – will low carb diets provide enough?  be careful of the bacon and egg approach – plenty of fresh low carb veg is essential.  Long term studies on the consequence of low fibre diets are needed – be careful if the focus of your diet is animal based rather than plant based
  • cutting grains? – well there is certainly no room for refined grains in a healthy eating plan, but nutrient rich grains are definitely required
  • how do we address less than 7% of people eat enough vegetables? – how indeed!
  • Supplementation?  That’s a whole other webinar . .
  • Muscle loss?  It’s important to understand that rapid weight loss can come from losing muscle.  If we are wanting to lose body fat it’s important that the approach does that and we do not get too focused on the numbers
  • sport performance and high fat diets? – to date the evidence is not convincing – more research needed – again it’s a very individual thing

That’s it from me – this blog is a summary of some key points – questions in the comments section are invited.  I am not a dietitian or a nutritionist so the points I have made here are my interpretation of material presented in webinar Low Carb Diets Fad or Future.  www.fadorfuture.com.au  #fadorfuture.  To be honest I found it very difficult to write this blog as there was so much in the webinar worthy of sharing.