“I just can’t lose weight!” This is the statement I hear from so many patients, but there is a solution. The low carbohydrate diet may be just the thing to help people who say they have tried everything and still can’t seem to lose weight.
Low Carbohydrate Diets
Low carb diets typically range from 20-100 grams of carbohydrates per day. There are several categories of low carb diets. Net carbs less than 20 grams per day is considered a very low carb diet. A moderate, low carb diet” would be 20-50 grams per day, and 50-100 grams of carbs per day is considered a liberal low carb diet. Which number to choose is very individualized because it depends on what a particular person’s goals are and their medical condition. For example, a person with diabetes may want to determine their net carbs per day based on blood insulin or blood glucose levels. Whatever your condition, it is best to check with your healthcare professional to determine if it is safe for you to be on any type of low carb diet, and if so, which one is right for you!
A low carb diet emphasizes higher fat and moderate protein and reduces high carbohydrate foods such as grain (pasta, flour, bread, crackers, baked goods) and high starch vegetables such as potatoes and squash, legumes, and high carb fruit. Good fats include olives/olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, raw nuts (especially macadamia), seed (black, sesame, pumpkin, cumin, hemp), avocados, omega-3 fats (krill, oil, sardines, anchovies), and raw cacao butter. Moderate amounts of grass fed meat, wild fish, organic chicken, pastured eggs and limited amounts of dairy are good sources of protein. Most vegetables especially broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, arugula, spinach, collard greens, Swiss chard, sprouts, ginger, garlic, turmeric, raw onion, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms are relatively low in carbs. It is best to avoid high fructose containing foods such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which can be hidden in fruit drinks, tomato paste, canned foods, pancake syrups, jams and jellies, sweet and sour sauce, ketchup, relish, candy, and liquid medications such as cough syrup and pain relievers.
With any type of low carb diet, it is important to understand the concept of “net carbs”. When looking at a packaged food label, the amount of net carbs (in grams) is calculated by subtracting the fiber content (in grams) from the total carbs (in grams). For instance, if a package of crackers lists the serving size as 4 crackers, and the total carbs is 13 grams, but the fiber content is 2 grams, then the total carbs is 11 grams for 4 crackers. When using fresh produce and other unpackaged foods, it is important to have a carb counter handy so you can figure out the net carb content of food that you are freshly preparing. In this fashion, net carbs per day can be determined.
Another helpful component to the lower carb diet and weight loss is intermittent fasting. This means including cycles of fasting and non-fasting. There are many ways to accomplish this. One way, in a 24-hour day, is to fast for 12-16 hours and limit eating to an 8-12 hour window. As an example, if you finish dinner at 8:30 PM and you want to fast for 14 hours, you don’t eat again until 10:00 AM the next morning. Our bodies prefer to burn sugar as its energy source, particularly if we are consuming a rich carbohydrate diet. But, on a low carb diet during the fasting cycle, glucose levels decrease and our bodies therefore have no choice but to begin to pull from the excess fat stored in the cells because it becomes the only source of energy available.
In addition to eating a lower carb diet and fasting intermittently, exercise is also an integral part of the lifestyle changes necessary to effectively lose weight. Exercising during the fasting cycle further causes the body to pull energy not from glucose, but rather from the fat stored in the cells. In addition, burning fat leads to more insulin sensitivity and consequently more weight loss.
In addition, there are a handful of things to watch out for which can potentially interfere with losing weight on a lower carb diet. Sometimes the carbs need to be adjusted because they are not low enough for a given individual. Being stressed all the time raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods. When limiting carbs, it is also very important to replace them with nutritious foods. Treats, even if made with healthy ingredients, can cause problems. It is critical to eat more (healthy) fats when limiting carbs, however, eating too many nuts can cause calorie overload. Although dairy is a low carb food it can be very high in protein and excessive protein can raise insulin levels and cause excess fat to be stored.
Susan Yarett, ND is a licensed naturopathic physician in Connecticut. She practices at Paragon Naturopathic Family Care in Stamford, CT and at Eclectic Naturopathic Medical Center in Newington, CT. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.