These days, the word “carbs” is a bad word. Many people looking to shave inches off their waistline and pounds off their body aren’t necessarily eliminating carbs, but switching to low-carb diets. And yet, there are many mistakes that often come with reducing carbs in an unguided way. Cutting carbs from your diet can lead to unwanted results. You’re likely cutting carbs because you know that carbs are important metabolically. But you want to know how to do it well, so here are some things to look out for:
As with many of these kinds of restrictions, the definition for what is “low carb” can vary. Some sources cite anything less than 150 grams of carbs per day. Even at that amount, there’s not much you can eat nowadays without exceeding that amount. And yet, you’re likely on a low-carb diet because you’re hoping that your metabolism will shift and your body will begin breaking down fat more. This is the state of ketosis, marked by a reduction in insulin, increased fat breakdown, and your liver producing high number of ketones to supply energy for your brain. (That’s a good thing!)
In order to be in a state of ketosis, you’ll need to get down to a level of around 50 grams of carbs per day. This may mean that you get the majority of your carbs from the vegetables that are on your plate.
Protein is one of those macronutrients in which most people are not deficient. You’re mostly likely never going to hear from your doctor at your next check up, “You need to eat more protein!” And yet, many of these low-carb diets include an increase in protein intake. While more protein should lead to weight loss, there is a process called gluconeogenesis, which takes extraneous amino acids into glucose. With circulating glucose, this obviously can cause a setback in entering ketosis (see above). Ketogenic diets, therefore, tend to be higher in fat, while moderating protein overall. A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 1 gram per pound of body weight. Accompanied by a high-intensity workout regimen, this should more than enough protein.
The body looks for energy preferentially by available sugars. When those aren’t available, the body breaks down fat in a process called lipolysis. Your body can use fat for energy! And breaking down that fat for energy requires more energy. Win-win!
But, not all fats are created equal. Trans fats are no bueno. Look for the healthy fats like monosaturated fats and omega-3 fats. Your fat intake should equate to about 70% of your total calories, if you’re pursuing a ketogenic diet. Choose fatty cuts of meat, while adding healthy fats to your meals should suffice!
Insulin has a sodium-retaining effect in the body. Increases in plasma insulin concentration within the physiological range stimulate sodium reabsorption in the kidneys. As such, there’s the opposite effect when insulin levels begin to decline. The body begins to lose sodium, as well as, you guessed it, water!
While you might feel less bloated, sodium is an essential electrolyte, involved in many of the body’s physiological processes. If you’re engaged in a low-carb diet, you must supplement your sodium intake. Salt your foods. Add liquid soups, like chicken broth to your diet.
In the early goings, it will be tough. As I said above, the body preferentially searches for energy breaking down sugar. Until the body shifts towards lipid metabolization, you might feel a bit sluggish or lethargic. Give it a few days to adjust. Within a month, your body will be humming along with no issues. So, keep at it and persevere. The payoff will be worth it.
Low-carb diets have great benefits to one’s health. Other than the obvious common ailments that befall the general public, i.e. T2D and obesity, a reduction of chronic inflammation around joints, gastrointestinal, etc. are other benefits. After all of this, it’s important that whatever you do that this is a sustainable lifestyle. Keep the long-term in mind and you’ll be pleased with the results!