Keto and other low carb diets are all the rage right now … but the question remains: are they right for you?
Diets (and especially new, trendy ones) are ultra-tempting, simply because we all desire a quicker, more efficient path to our goals. And, if that goal involves losing body fat faster, we’re likely going to say “sign me up!” to a diet that promises just that!
While I’m all for efficiency and trying new things to reach your goals, there are several things to consider with low carb diets before you dive in.
Low Carb: Is It For You?
So we’ve all seen the evidence: low carb is truly great for fat loss, as well as certain digestive and even neurological conditions. Studies show that going low carb can help improve blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity (two key factors in fat loss) and also have a positive impact on diabetes markers, like insulin resistance.
In short: there’s no doubt that it works for some people. The kicker here though, is that just because a specific diet works for certain conditions for certain people doesn’t mean that it’s the most optimal diet for everyone all of the time.
Why is this?
Well, let’s take a look at biology for a moment. The goal of most low-carb diets is to get the body into a state of ketosis, where instead of burning glucose (carbs/sugars) for fuel, it begins burning body fat. This is a natural adaptation our bodies have created for survival. When we don’t have enough glucose (our body’s preferred source of fuel), we are able to switch to burning body fat for energy to allow us to find or catch our next meal.
Obviously, this is attractive for those of us looking to lose fat. If we can force our body into ketosis, then we can force it to burn more fat!
However, notice that our bodies don’t jump into this state naturally, but only as an emergency “backup” plan for the short term. After a while, we would naturally return to eating a more varied diet, which would include natural carbs like those from fruit and root veggies.
This is why I typically like to consider low-carb eating only for short periods of time, since it mimics what would occur naturally in nature. To continue eating very low carb for months on end as an overall diet plan for life is to be (in essence) mimicking a “survival” state in your body. This is one of the many reasons that many people who stay low carb for too long do great at first, but gradually end up with low energy levels – we are simply designed to eat a varied diet, which includes many carb-rich foods!
“Clean” Carbs vs. Processed Carbs
Now, there is a huge difference between natural, whole-food carbs and processed carbs. If by a low-carb diet we are talking about eliminating processed carbs like flours, breads, cookies, cakes, candy, etc … then this is definitely a step in the right direction!
The key here is to remember that not eating low carb doesn’t mean you’re going processed-carb crazy! It simply means that you’re including whole-food, clean carbs in your diet. After all, a slice of processed white bread is a world apart from a baked sweet potato. One is going to rapidly spike your blood sugar and encourage weight gain, while the other contains fibers that keep your blood sugar stable, plus massive amounts of nutrients.
Ironically, including only whole-food carbs in your diet is going to naturally be lower-carb than those eating several processed carbs with every meal. So, technically, switching to only whole-food based carbs will lower your total carb count by default.
What are whole-food carb sources?
• Sweet potatoes and potatoes
• Winter squashes like butternut and kabocha
• Carrots, parsnips, and turnips
• Berries and other fruits
• Grains like quinoa, oats, and buckwheat
Try Low Carb In Cycles
As always, knowing your body is the most important consideration when it comes to choosing your eating regime. And, if you feel giving low carb a try would be helpful for what you’re dealing with now, go for it! My recommendation, however, would be to view it as a therapeutic diet. Or, in other words, a diet you’re on for a specific purpose to support your goal. Simply going (and staying) low carb because it’s a trend isn’t a great idea, and can cause you to miss out on many nutrient-rich foods that also support optimal performance.
If you do decide to try low carb for a bit, make sure you’re getting adequate calories and energy from healthy fats like avocados, virgin olive oil, and nuts and seeds for fuel.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the best way to “diet” is to eat as nature intended, which means filling your meals with whole, non-processed foods and limiting boxed and processed foods.
Now, since we’re all about balance, check out this Traditional Shepherd’s Pie recipe
we whipped up in a recent HEF On The Road episode!