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Is A Low Carb Diet Healthy? The Real Deal With Carbs

carbs are not the problem bread on a wooden background

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    Sure, carbs are delicious, but are they healthy?

    I am a lover of carbs. Not just bread and pasta, but sweet potatoes, fruit, oats…. oh mama.

    You may believe that carbs are the devil and each potato is a little ground troll demon, lurking in wait until it’s able to pad your body with adipose.

    Maybe you’ve always had a diet filled with carbs and you have always seen yourself as overweight, out of shape, or unhealthy. To you, this can only mean one thing!

     

    Correlation does not imply causation

     

    Unfortunately, this is not how you science. Correlation does not imply causation.

    For example, unless:

    — eating margarine is causing divorce rates in Maine

    — eating a specific amount of sour cream impacts motorcycle-transport crashes

    — the increasing revenue of skiing facilities is causing people to die by becoming entangled in their own bed sheets ….

    Then you can’t claim that all of your problems come from eating carbs. [check out this article for more hilarious examples]

     

    What does the Science Say About Carbs?

    Bulls eye research reliable or valid, reliable and valid

    Yes, I am exaggerating for effect here, but unless there is GOOD scientific research, with peer reviewed, valid (accurate), reliable (consistent) results, and no sampling bias, then any findings are to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Even better if you can find a review of all the available studies and the overall general consensus (meta analysis).

    Especially in today’s highly pressured climate of falsified and un-replicatable data within the scientific community.

    No, science is not always “true facts”.

    Nothing is more alluring than the promise of quick and easy weight loss at your finger tips. Especially with a “diet-hack” that goes something like this:

    — Eliminate carbs

    — Eat all the bacon

    — Add cream

    — Magical fat loss

    — Vibrant health

    via GIPHY

     

    Makes you get kinda hot and bothered just thinking about it.

     

    So How Many Carbs Should I Eat?

    Unfortunately, as un-sexy as it is, moderation really is key with most things. And according to this study of 15,428 people who consumed a variety of diets, including a low carb diet, completed over a 25 year span, the same holds true with diet and carbohydrate consumption.

    This study showed that “a percentage of 50–55% energy from carbohydrate was associated with the lowest risk of mortality”.

    The Lancet mortality risk of carbohydrates in diet

     

    Source: The Lancet
    Graph created by Radical Strength

     

    This is vastly different from the typical low carb diet of approximately 10% carbohydrates and the ketogenic diet which is 5%.

    Is this study “good” science? It fits the bill in regards to the sampling and it is a longitudinal study, meaning it looked at the results over a long period of time.

    In contrast, there are no long term studies done on the validity and reliability of the ketogenic diet or other low carb diets to produce the types of miracle fat loss and health cures that are claimed.

    Many of the health benefits  people proudly affirm on social media and websites are due to overall changes in diet and from the weight loss itself rather than the method. 

    For example, type II diabetes is much better managed when weight is lowered . If you switch from a high sugar fast food diet to a diet rich in protein, fiber and vegetables, or even just REAL food, you are bound to lose weight and improve your health.

    In fact, studies have shown that even when there is a low-carb component to a weight loss diet, the effectiveness is often due to the relatively high protein content of the diet and is unrelated to the fat content.

    Review after review has shown that low carb diets are not effective in the long term and are a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

    It’s also important to note that if you are exercising at any level of intensity, carbohydrates are primary fuel. If you want to be able to workout at a level that burns fat, you will absolutely want to have carbs in your arsenal.

    An even more shocking and less known fact – willpower depends on glucose. This means that if you are low in glucose, you are not nearly as capable of making good decisions not to give in to cravings and unproductive or unhealthy behaviour. Crazy, huh? 

     

    So If We Know This, Why Are Low Carb Diets Like Keto So Popular?

    Potato stabbed with fork

    Let me ‘splain you a thing. People LOVE shortcuts.

    Especially diet shortcuts.

    In today’s society (and really, in any rational society I’d argue), who doesn’t love something quick and dirty that could give you the bod you’ve always dreamed of …

    All while eating all that fatty, delicious, satiating food you always thought was adipose fodder (and heart attack inducing!) and not having to do the lifting and the sweating and the spandex.

    Fitness plan is bacon

    A few decades ago, low-carb diet crazes appeared in the mainstream media.

    Although highly criticized by the medical community, the media frenzy won out and still does much of the time.

    I believe this is due to the dazzling effects of herd mentality and our ever present wish to have all the rewards with little actual work.

    Eating well and exercising regularly seems too “normal” and hard.

    Quick fixes are much more exciting.

    (Related: The Ultimate Guide To Choosing A New Workout Routine)

    What about Keto? Isn’t it body-hack wizardry that Super-Smart-Guru-Diet-Geniuses can prove using science?

    Yes and no.

    Science is more art than science.

    Rick and Morty more art than science

     

    Wise words of Rick Sanchez

    The keto diet is actually nothing new.

    Ketogenic diets have been used for a long time for a variety of medical reasons.

    — To treat epilepsy

    — For treating some cancers

    — In managing type II diabetes

    Over the last decade, the KD (no, definitely not the carby, cheesy kind of your childhood) has become a more grown-up, sciencey-sounding, elitist version of a low-carb diet that your Aunt Susan might have been on when you were a kid.

    You know the ones….

    Low carb diet symbols

    Of course, the keto-diet is not quite the same as a typical low-carb diet (to which there are many, many variations). It does produce a unique process in your body that other diets do not.

    But does that translate into magical fat loss and health beyond your wildest dreams?

    In short, no.

    This is key: There’s a huge difference between being a “fat burner” and actually burning your body fat. If you are over-consuming calories, the most advanced diet in the world will not let you burn body fat. That’s all there is to it.

     

    So What Do You Do Instead?

    Moderation.

    Yes, really.

    The reason people have success on low carb diets is because it is an efficient way to lower calories.

    This is important because people DO in fact tend to eat far too many carbohydrates (and therefore calories) than they need to. They also eat too much fat, too much everything.

    There is more to weight loss than calories in, calories out. I will not claim that it is that basic and straightforward, BUT, that is the main battle.

    Highly palatable foods in large quantities and too little movement (calories out).

    Not enough sleep is a huge factor. So is stress.

    (Related: Are You Too Stressed To Lose Weight? Why You Could Be and How to Fix It?)

    (Related: Stress Eating, Bingeing and Restricting: Why You Do It and How to Stop)

    In essence, health and weight gain is a multifaceted beast and the answers are more complex than we’d like.

    However, I truly believe that most reasonable people know what they should do and there are statistics to prove that.

    A lot of what I’ve been saying is nothing new to you. I could probably get a lot further by promising a magical-keto-cookie-fat-bomb that will solve all of your problems but it would be disingenuous of me.

     

     

    So, you won't find me giving up carbs anytime soon

    While I’m not quite ready to start wearing pasta shaped jewelry, I do plan to keep eating and enjoying food of all kinds.

    I don’t consider ANY food inherently bad as long as it’s recognizable. 

    There are certainly foods that I eat less of or more of depending on my goals (and no, those goals don’t have to be tied to appearance) but generally, I eat all the things!

    pasta jewelry
    Yup, it's actually a thing

    Have you ever tried a low carb diet? Did you have success or failure? Was it easy to stick to long term?

    Are you a low carb or keto evangelist and want to tell me your opinion? Leave a comment below!

    Is A Low Carb Diet Healthy? pin
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    RachKimmy Ripley (give it a whirl girl)rebeccaBethAmy @ Orison Orchards Recent comment authors

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    Kimmy Ripley (give it a whirl girl)
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    THAT NOODLE NECKLACE!!! Omg so cool!

    rebecca
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    rebecca

    I love eating no carb or low carb. My body just feels better and I have so much more energy. But I have to focus to maintain!

    Beth
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    Beth

    I haven’t tried a keto diet, but many years ago I was on a low carb diet. While I lost weight initially, I gained it all back and then some!

    Amy @ Orison Orchards
    Guest

    I love your message of moderation! I have an autoimmune thyroid illness that necessitates that I eat gluten free. So it’s easier for me to eat paleo/keto and pretty low carb. I’ve gotten used to it, mostly. But I miss pasta!

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