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So What’s the Deal with Low Carb Diets?

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It seems the whole world is currently on a low carb diet of some variation or another. For some carbohydrates have become the spawn of evil, responsible for every ailment going. For others low carb diets have been seen as the only way to decrease body fat. But what is a low carb diet? To put it simply, it’s when you drastically reduce or even completely cut out all your carbohydrates. These are foods such as oatmeal, rice, pasta, potatoes and even fruit (especially dried fruit which has a higher concentration of fructose, which the body processes as sugar and stores as body fat). Now people reduce or remove these foods from their diet in the hope that if they’re not ingesting sugar, their body isn’t going to have any unused sugar stores to store as body fat and therefore will burn that body fat as available fuel source.

Now technically this is correct, however if you cut down your carbohydrates or even cut them out, you’re often reducing your calorie intake too much as well. So if you drop your carbohydrates too low and don’t effectively replace them with enough calories from proteins and fats, your weight loss (or at least your fat loss) goals are going to come to a halt. So how do you get around that? Well, you need to make sure you adjust your protein and fat intake accordingly, as you reduce your carbohydrates.

Of course, like everything else, low carb nutrition has its pros and cons and there are people who don’t do well on it. However, a large percentage of the population may benefit to dramatically reducing their carbohydrate intake, especially as most of the villainous carbs are those from sugars, alcohols and refined/processed sources.

The greatest benefit of the low carb diet is of course insulin management. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar and influences the storage of macronutrients in the body. However, in excessive amounts, it also acts as an aging hormone. Insulin production is stimulated mostly by carbs, and a chronically elevated insulin level can result in a number of issues such as high glycaemia, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer and coronary heart diseases.

In terms of being an anti-inflammatory diet, most people suffering from joint pain notice significant improvement upon embarking on a low carb diet, as a diet rich in carbs can precipitate inflammation. Aches and pains mysteriously begin to lessen or totally subside. It also promotes an advantageous muscle tissue – adipose tissue ratio. To put it simply: the more muscle you have, the less fat in your body. This is due in part to the greater protein intake and moreover to the improvement in insulin sensitivity. Finally, by eating a high fat/protein and low carb diet, the body shifts from carbohydrate metabolism as carbohydrate oxidation, glycogen utilization and glucose turnover decreases. There’s plenty of studies that show that constantly reducing carbs throughout the day will shift the body into a fat burning mode, making it easier to access the stored body fat you wish to get rid of.

Though the low-carb diet works for many, it does have its flaws. The biggest flaw is that it often cuts out healthy carbs as well as unhealthy carbs and replaces them with high fat meats, cheese, fish and poultry. Eating an unlimited amount of fat and meat and just restricting carbs is a dangerous practice that many health professionals criticise the Atkins Diet for advocating. Studies have shown this approach to be very unhealthy. The body needs carbohydrates. Carbs are used to make energy. The body needs fibre provided by carbs for proper digestion, colon health and insulin regulation. The central nervous system, the brain, the kidneys, the muscles and heart also need carbs to function properly.

It’s not uncommon to feel a little more lacklustre or experience and overall drop in intensity. Low carbohydrate diets deplete glycogen levels, forcing your body to switch to ketones for energy. Consequently, lowered glycogen levels will have a marked effect on your physical performance within the gym. Depleted glycogen levels will decrease the workload you can perform during a workout and although you’ll start to lean up as the body fat goes, the irony that comes with getting shredded is that most people will tend to feel a bit weaker during workouts as they’re not getting fuelled by the carbs their bodies have become so reliant on.

Just like any change in your diet and eating habits, low carb nutrition requires you to make a few adjustments to it in order to be successful. You’ll find that you’ll have to shop rather differently and also commit more time to food preparation. You’ll also need to tweak your cooking with the omission of certain ingredients that may have been meal staples in days gone past, as well as adjusting some recipes to contain less carbs and avoid certain foods completely.

Cutting carbs can be healthy, as long as the right carbs are cut and at healthy levels. First, dieters should consider what they are cutting. Processed, fried and sugary items should go, while legumes, beans and whole grains should remain a part of a healthy diet. Try to ensure what little carbs you have on a low carb diet are either fibrous sources (i.e. vegetables) throughout the day or simple sugars immediately post workout. Obviously this depends on what your classification of low carb dieting is. Considering there are both positive and negative consequences to reducing carbohydrates a happy medium is needed, but remember there’s never a right or wrong way to go about it.

Experiment, see what works for your body and live happily shredded after!

Article Author Blackburn South Store Manager Dan Cavalcante

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