No Carb Diet: A number of people, in fact most people wishing to start carb-centric diet plans such as The Atkins Diet and The South Beach Diet, all make the same basic mistake – they assume it is a no carb diet.
This common misconception is also one of the most common reasons people fail when trying to follow a new healthier way of eating, as they believe it should consist of a no carb diet menu.
Everyone, young or old, fat or thin needs carbohydrates in their diet however, as I have mentioned before, there are different carbohydrates, good and bad.
The good carbohydrates perform an essential function in the human body. Therefore, when following a low carb diet, you need to avoid the bad carbohydrates as much as possible, while still taking in enough good ones to sustain your energy levels and maintain good health. The U.S Department of Agriculture recommends a person’s diet consists of at least 520 calories, or 130-grams, worth of carbohydrates per day.
This is a very loose recommendation however, and only covers the absolute minimum as far as activity levels are concerned. Someone who is extremely active will need to eat more good carbohydrates to sustain physical activity. The potential consequences of following a completely no carb diet include;
• Decreased Brain Power – Glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates, is the brain’s main source of energy. A lack of glucose in the body will impair any physical performance undertaken and will lead to quicker mental exhaustion. Physical symptoms may be low blood sugar, dizziness and feelings of weakness. I have to admit to suffering from these symptoms myself several times over the years while I was trying a number of different “fad” diets.
• Reduced Muscle Performance – Eating an appropriate amount of carbohydrates each day will ensure the body has plenty of spare protein, which is necessary for providing energy. If you do not take in the appropriate amount of carbohydrates, rather than using the protein to build muscle, it is broken down and used as fuel for energy.
• Nutrients – Good carbohydrates contain a number of nutrients essential in protecting the body from certain diseases including, bowel function disorders, high cholesterol and diverticulosis. The vitamins and nutrients available in good carbohydrates also aid a person’s overall feeling of wellness.
• Reduced Energy Levels – Certain good carbohydrates are stored in your liver and muscles, this is know as glycogen, which is essential for physical performance. Any level of athlete would need to ensure their glycogen level remain at an appropriate level, which is why many follow a high carbohydrate diet. Low glycogen levels will equate to seriously low energy levels, affecting everything from walking, running and even the lightest of exercise.
• Vitamin Deficiency – As well as supplying both physical and mental energy, certain good carbohydrates contain important essential vitamins, such as vitamin E, B-12, D and B. A lack of these important vitamins can lead to vitamin deficiencies including, loss of hair, skin irritation and bone weakness. A lack of the necessary vitamins can also lead to acute exhaustion, which means you will (as I was) reluctant to engage in any type of exercise.
This isn’t helpful when trying to lose weight, as exercise is an important part of the whole process.
Managing carbohydrates in your diet can lead to effective weight loss, if you truly understand what is good for you and what is not. A no carb diet may feel like an easy option, especially as remembering what foods contain good carbs and bad carbs can take some getting used to – however, the consequences of a completely no carb diet can actually be weight gain, as well as the possible incidents mentioned above.
What Does Your Body Burn for Energy if You Follow a No Carb Diet?
According to an extension provided by the University of Iowa, while the body derives important fuel from fats, carbohydrates and protein, carbohydrates are actual the preferred source especially when it comes to physical activity. The body constantly turns to a variety of sources in order to fuel the body’s activity in between meals. Hormones let the body know when fuel is needed, which results in the release of triglycerides. Blood glucose, which circulates around the body at a consistent rate, is an almost constant source of fuel too – although if the body cannot receive enough blood glucose it will then turn to glycogen stored in an individual’s liver. Glycogen is essential to maintain physical activity, while the body can turn to fat in the event there is not enough glycogen in the body you will notice your physical performance is impaired. A no carb diet can deplete glycogen levels to the point the body has no choice but to burn essential proteins and fats to use for fuel.
If your body is forced to breakdown important protein for fuel, as oppose to being used towards muscle maintenance, you will feel fatigued quicker and you will also risk putting on weight, as your body urges you to eat something to shoot your energy levels up.
If, like me, you feel like you are being blinded by science please do bear with me and the fairly complex education surrounding carbohydrates. It really isn’t as difficult as it may seem and is actually quite straightforward once you have a grip on the basics! Honest!
Did you know – It is a common misconception that energy is only used or needed by the body when a person is doing something physical – such as walking, running or working out. However, the body is in constant need of energy for respiration, temperature control and other essential quality of life maintenance. This means a strict no carb diet could, over time, cause respiratory problems and worse.
Enough of the science – how did I get to grips with ensuring my diet only contained good carbohydrates and not bad ones?
As I have mentioned before – I started by making a basic list of which carbohydrates were good for me. This not only worked as a constant reminder, it also helped me memorise them so eventually I could do the weekly grocery shop without having a list of those naughty carbohydrates with me.
I also printed off a copy of the official “Food Pyramid”, which is supported by the US Department of Agriculture and the Harvard School of Public Health. This offers an easy to look at diagram of exactly what amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates each meal should consist of. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, individuals are more likely to learn and absorb information they see on a regular basis. Therefore, a copy of the “Food Pyramid” was stuck up next to my list of good and bad carbs.
Menu plans were a lifesaver too – I know I have mentioned these before also but I really cannot recommend their use enough. When following a restricted carb diet, eating on the hop – as in quickly throwing something together when I got in from work or the school run – was simply not an option. I found that if I didn’t plan my menu I was more likely to turn to foods which contained refined carbohydrates (certain cereals, potatoes and bread). While these foods offered me an easy option, they are also more likely to increase your desire to snack and increase your weight.
As well as a no carb diet being a no go, the US Department of Agriculture recommends that individuals do not follow the usual three square meals a day motto but instead eat six small meals throughout the day to ensure your metabolism is in a consistent “fat-burning mode”.
In years gone by, the weight-watching world’s worse enemy was seen as being fat, however these days the poor carbohydrate has definitely taken over as being enemy number one. Unfortunately, this often means people resort to following a diet containing insufficient carbs to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or worse they end up following a completely no carb diet.
As well as the advice I have already given, I recommend making a note of the following; (pin alongside the information you have on good carbs and the US Food Pyramid) –
For someone following a diet consisting of 1200 – Carbs should be restricted to between 135-190-grams per day.
For someone following a diet consisting of 2000 calories a day – The carbohydrate intake should sit somewhere between 225 and 325-grams per day.
The average adult, according to Iowa University, has a carbohydrate intake of between 325 and 775-grams a day. Considering reducing your carb intake by just 150-grams a day can lead to an annual weight loss of 33-pounds, you can see why it is important to keep an eye on the food containing carbohydrates. Although neither I, nor any medical professional or qualified dietician would recommend anyone following a strictly no carb diet for any length of time, there are certain cases where no carbohydrates have positive effects. For example, it is quite common for nutrition specialists to recommend an individual follow a no carb diet menu for a certain time period, usually no longer than 48-hours. This is usually as part of a detoxification, where you rid your body of everything that is “bad” in preparation for a change in diet – or in my case, a lifestyle change that will eventually lead to weight loss and a generally healthier outlook on life.
Whether you had planned to follow a no carb diet or not, you should always seek the advice of your doctor or dietician before you do. They will be able to help you ensure your new eating habits are healthy and not having any negative effects on any pre-existing medical conditions you may have.
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