Do you really need to reduce carbs to lose weight? Nutritionist Angela Dowden has the answer.
Eating plans like the Ketogenic Diet, Paleo and Atkins all insist we cut carbohydrates drastically, despite this stance being at odds with advice from virtually all the world’s most respected public health authorities, including the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the World Health Organisation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
These plans advocate that, to be healthy, we should reduce our carbohydrate intake and also base most of our meals around starchy carbs like whole wheat breads, whole grain pasta and pulses. The reason? Carbohydrate is the primary source of ready energy for our body, vital for fuelling the average person’s workout. They provide fibre and resistant starch to promote gut health, along with B vitamins, selenium, zinc and iron, which help with energy levels and keeping the immune system healthy.
Why cut carbs?
Nutrition experts insist that in modest portions, the right type of carbs – starchy, high fibre and slow–releasing – can aid weight loss because they are bulky and filling. ‘Mostly it’s the things you serve these with, like butter, oily or creamy sauce that will make you fat, not the carbs themselves,’ says registered dietitian Helen Bond.
However, when you want to get weight off quickly and effectively, there is no doubt that low-carb diets can be very efficient, at least in the short-term. ‘A low carb diet may shift pounds faster at first and you may feel less hungry as low carb diets tend to higher in satiating protein,’ says Helen Bond. ‘Over the longer term there doesn’t appear to be an advantage though.’
Most recently, a study from Stanford university in California found people lost about the same amount of weight (averaging 11 to 13lbs) over 12 months, whether they were assigned to a low-fat or low-carb diet.
What about genetics?
Genes may influence how well you metabolise carbohydrates. There is one theory that if you don’t notice a slightly sweet taste developing within 30 seconds of chewing a cream cracker, a lower carb diet would be the better choice for you. But according to Dr Jennie Brand-Miller, a Sydney based professor of dietetics who pioneered the GI index (a measure of how quickly carbohydrate foods raise blood sugar) the body can cope remarkably well with a wide range of carb intakes.
Ultimately, it’s likely to be the quality of our diet overall, combined with the calories it contains that matters most to our health and waistline.
What’s the verdict?
One thing the low and higher carb camps can agree on is that some types of carbs – the sugary and fast releasing ones – should be restricted. Sugary foods are all too easy to consume, often providing more calories than we need, while fast releasing, refined (high GI) carbs also cause the body to constantly release insulin, which combined with a few extra pounds, can significantly up your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
So if you want to lose weight, by all means reduce your carb intake to kick-start your weight loss. And definitely try to curb those sugary refined carbs as much as you can. In the longer term though, reducing carbs too much might not be the wise for your health or necessary for your waistline.