In science class at elementary school, we learned that foods are divided into three classes – protein, carbohydrate and fats. We also learned that each type of macronutrients have a specific function. Proteins are needed for growth, carbohydrates are needed for energy and fats cushion our organs.
We have been taught that a balanced diet is the key to a healthy life. Is it true? If you look at current dieting trends, honestly, most things seem confusing. You will find a variety of diets, each of them manipulating the macronutrient ratios and promising great success. Among the many diets, one diet does stand out – the one with low carbohydrates in it. Atkins introduced it and this became the best selling diet mantra within a short period of time.
But what is a low carbohydrate diet. Usually a low carbohydrate diet involves a diet containing less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Hence with such restrictions, almost all carbohydrate dense foods are totally eliminated. Followers tend to avoid all types of starchy carbohydrates and sugar. Processed foods are also a big no, as they contain a lot of carbohydrates. There are many reasons why such diets work and I can mention a few of the notable ones:
Processed foods are eliminated: Any diet that will see processed food being eliminated will see weight loss. Processed foods have a lot of calories in small food portions. Think of a chocolate bar, it’s not a food choice that might keep you full for a long period of time. However the chocolate bar comes with a lot of energy, which you might not be able to use and this will lead towards fat storage in the body.
Protein replacing carbohydrates: Proteins or fats often replace the low intake of carbohydrates, thus bringing about change in body composition. How does this happen? When carbohydrates are broken down, they form glucose. The cells to fuel activities use this glucose. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the cells. When glycogen is stored it also stores water along with it, making the body look puffy. Hence when an individual starts low-carb dieting he throws away the water weight and we see some quick weight loss.
Low calorie intake: We have a tendency to over eat carbohydrates. The reason is we do not eat carbohydrates on its own as we do in case of proteins. In most cases, we mix carbohydrates with fat and proteins. For example, a typical breakfast in our country would be roti with eggs and vegetable curry cooked in oil. So when we avoid carbs, we will ditch the roti and only eat fried or boiled eggs and vegetable curry without potatoes. Then there is an obvious reduction in calorie intake and we all know that lower calories lead to lower body fat percentage.
Now that I have explained some of the reasons for rapid fat or weight loss with carbohydrate reduction, I need to answer two questions. The first one is - is this the only form of diet for rapid fat loss? My answer is no. In my opinion the best way to diet is to reduce the overall calorie intake slowly. At the end of the day, it has been proven again and again through various researches that a net energy balance is more important to reduce weight. For creating a net deficit in that energy balance, one need not completely go off carbohydrates. The second question is - would I recommend this diet? Well, the answer to this question is a yes and a no. If someone requires dropping fat fast, then yes probably the diet will work. Also, people suffering from various illnesses such as cancer and epilepsy might do better with low carb. However, if you are a normal human and wants a sustained weight loss over a period of time, then calorie counting is more important. Also, if you are working out, the intensity will suffer if carbs are missing in your diet.
Therefore, call me old school, but I still value what my science teacher taught me. A balanced diet minus processed foods is the key to a healthy and productive weight loss formula.
The author is a fitness enthusiast, who wishes to help people stay healthy