Why try a low-carb diet?
For several decades, we’ve all been told that carbohydrates should be the foundation of our diet and our primary source of energy, while dietary fats (the fats found in food) are bad for us. It all started when some scientists studied the effects of different types of fats on health, and determined that some fats — such as trans fats — are bad for us, and that other types of fats are actually healthy and necessary for proper bodily functions.
However, the message to the general public got oversimplified, and nutrition experts starting telling us to cut all fats out of our diets. As a result, low-fat, reduced fat, and fat-free foods started lining the supermarket shelves. The low-fat message is now so ingrained in our culture that many of us reach for these foods without even thinking about it. After all, it sounds reasonable: if we don't want to be fat, we shouldn't eat fat.
Unfortunately, it isn't really that simple. When fat is removed from food, a lot of the flavor is lost. To compensate for this, food manufacturers add more sugar. And it’s this sugar — not fat — that is responsible for weight gain and many other health problems facing Americans today.
Did you know ...
Health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are virtually unseen in parts of the world that follow a more traditional hunter-gatherer diet. In fact, these diseases are so closely linked to the modern Western diet (high in carbohydrates and processed foods) that they are often referred to as diseases of civilization. Our diet is without a doubt the biggest determinant of our overall health.
What if everything we've been told about carbohydrates and fat is wrong?
Recent research indicates that there is no association between dietary fat and the risk of heart disease. There is, however, a link between simple carbohydrate consumption and health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. And yet refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta continue to occupy the widest space at the bottom of the food pyramid (or a full quarter of the more recent MyPlate model). Health and nutrition experts like the Institutes of Medicine continue to tell us that 45-65% of our energy should come from carbohydrates.
Benefits of a low-carb, high-fat diet
Proponents of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets report that they can lead to numerous health benefits, including:
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Clearer skin
- Increased mental clarity
- Improved sinus health
- A more stable appetite and decreased food cravings
- More stable emotional health and fewer mood swings
- Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Increased HDL (good) cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved blood sugar control
A caveat about low-carb, high-fat diets
Research is increasingly indicating that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. Your individual genetics play a huge role in how your body processes and responds to different foods. (That’s why the same type of diet can lead to improved health in some studies and greater health risks in other studies.) Some people thrive on a raw food diet, while others (myself included) get shaky and hangry without animal protein. Just because something works for your friend or coworker or spouse, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. I started my ketogenic diet only after a DNA fitness test reported that my ideal diet type was low-carb. It’s important to listen to your body and do what works best for you.
Low-carb diets for weight loss
That said, if weight loss is your goal, it’s worth trying a low-carb, high-fat diet. For most of us, our bodies are used to getting our energy from carbohydrates, and the fat stores in our body are likely to remain where they are. But when we follow a very low-carb ketogenic diet, our bodies have to find another source of fuel, and they start burning fat. Once your body is fat adapted (accustomed to burning fat for fuel), weight loss can occur very quickly. But this process can take time, and it’s important to do it in healthy manner.