Ask JJ: Low-Carb Diets

Dear JJ: I lost nearly 60 pounds on a low-carb diet. I felt and looked great. My doctor raved about my improved blood work. Unfortunately, I eventually gained it back plus some, and I’ve known other low-carb dieters who met the same fate. Why do so many people struggle with low-carb diets even though we know they work?

If I put you on a desert island for a few months with just protein, dietary fat, and water, you’d be fine because your body can actually make glucose on its own. In other words, you can live fine without carbohydrates.

The thing is, who wants to live like that? Not me.

Low-carb diets have their benefits. Properly designed, they eliminate health-robbing, fat loss-stalling culprits like sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and high-glycemic carbohydrates.

Compared with low-fat diets, studies show low-carb diets help people lose more weight and improve cardiovascular health. Another study conducted by the American Diabetes Association found a low-carb, low-saturated fat could help improve Type 2 diabetes management, especially if you sustain it beyond 24 weeks.

That’s where problems begin. While many people initially thrive on a low-carb diet, over time once the novelty wears off they backtrack into their old eating habits.

Maybe a few bites of birthday cake become two pieces or eating bacon yet again for breakfast leaves them nose-diving into a high-sugar impact muffin (aka adult cupcake). Whatever the fall-off-the-wagon reason, if low-carb diets had worked for you in the past, you’d already be at your ideal weight and peak vitality, right?

Many clients also feel lousy eating very low carb. They aren’t pleasant people to be around. They get bored with a limited food repertoire or tediously counting carbs. They satisfy their sweet tooth with low-carb junk foods loaded with soy protein isolate and other crappy ingredients.

Very low-carb diets allow a rather limited menu, and eating highly reactive foods repeatedly can create problems. Much as I love quality eggs from barnyard chickens, eating low-carb staples like omelets every morning can create food intolerances.

Dr. Alan Christianson mentions low-carb diets can create other detrimental effects including insomnia, fatigue, and depression.

When you limit or eliminate low-sugar impact vegetables, fruits, and legumes, you can miss out on valuable nutrients and antioxidants, but you also miss out on fiber and its numerous benefits including improved insulin sensitivity and yes, increased weight loss.

“The average fiber intake of adults in the United States is less than half recommended levels and is lower still among those who follow currently popular low-carbohydrate diets,” writes JL Slavin in the journal Nutrition.

Rather than going very low carb and severely restricting an entire macronutrient, I aim to empower people to make good choices, knowing where there’s wiggle room and how to step away from high-sugar impact bad choices.

In other words, stop fearing carbs. Stop demonizing an entire food group. Choose the right ones that help you feel fabulous and get fast, lasting fat loss.

Rather than reducing diets to points, carbs, calories, or whatever, let’s acknowledge food is more complex and that multiple criteria — including nutrient density, fructose, fiber, and glycemic load — determine its overall impact.

So while quinoa might be a higher-carb food restricted on very low carb diets, when you consider its overall impact, it becomes a nutrient-rich superstar.

Adding quinoa and other low-sugar impact foods adds variety and flavor to your meals while still balancing blood sugar, increasing fat loss, and boosting overall health.

I know some of my readers and colleagues are advocates, so I want to know whether you agree with my assessment about low-carb diets. If you’ve ever done a low-carb diet, did you get the results you wanted? Were you able to maintain that diet and those results? Share your thoughts below.

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