As we know from my previous post, I am a fan of low carb diets for weight loss and improved health outcomes, albeit in specific groups of people. I thought I’d write a little today about some of the FAQs I get about low carb living.
1. Can you actually lose weight?
Yes, you can. There are several reasons for this. Most commonly, carbohydrates are quite high in calories without being overly satiating. This means that it is quite easy to consume a large amount of carbohydrates in one sitting. Anyone who has ever eaten an entire bag of chips can testify to this. And yet, if you were given the same quantity in meat or butter, you would get quite full fast.
Another reason is because carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas to help you make use of the carbohydrates (broken down into its more basic sugar form). But insulin is a storage hormone– it likes to store the carbohydrates in a back-up form in the muscles and the liver. And if you’ve filled up your back up storage, the rest gets stored as fat. So it follows that if you are consuming more carbohydrates than your activity level allows (because exercise burns up carbohydrates), the excess is converted and stored as fat.
This is not a bad thing: our bodies use this mechanism to protect us from starvation in the case of famine. But of course, we have a Maccas around every corner now, so our chances of starving a lot less. And that’s why eating excess carbohydrates and sugars leads to weight gain.
Some people are genetically very good hoarders of carbohydrates. These are people who often have an exaggerated insulin response to carbohydrates, and over time can develop insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.
So what’s the answer for this phenomenon? Either increase your physical activity- or decrease your carbs.
2. But aren’t carbs important for your brain to function?
Yes and no. It is true that your brain runs on glucose (which is the broken down form of carbohydrates). That’s why when you feel sluggish at 3pm, your body wants you to reach for chocolate or lollies to perk you up. But it is also possible for your brain to adapt to run on ketones.
What are ketones? Ketones are the byproduct of burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. While the initial stage of transitioning from burning carbohydrates to fat can be quite difficult, and result in symptoms like headaches, fogginess, poor concentration, this is a perfectly normal adjustment period which can be managed with fluids, salt, and sometimes supplements. If you persist a little longer, your body eventually adjusts, and you feel normal again. Some people even find their thinking is sharper and clearer than before, because they aren’t getting that sluggish post-carb-heavy meal slump. Of course, if ever you are feeling truly sick during this period, or you have a complicated medical history, you should seek medical attention, and always let your doctors know you are on the ketogenic diet.
3. What about all those studies saying that carbs can protect you from heart disease?
I know those studies because they are often quoted in nutritional guidelines. These are most commonly observational studies. The problem with scientific studies in nutrition is that it is basically impossible to prove causation. That is, it is very difficult to conclusively link any two factors together with real certainty. That would require groups of people eating very strictly controlled diets over a long period of time- difficult and expensive. So we rely on questionnaires and diet-recalls, and try to make associations. And it is true that there are several studies that demonstrate low GI carbs such as brown rice and wholegrain bread are protective against heart disease.
But you have to remember that when we look at studies, we have to consider very carefully who is being studied, for how long, and how they are being studied. These studies are generally based on a randomly selected community group, most often consuming a standard diet high in carbohydrates. And in a group consuming a standard diet, low GI wholegrain carbohydrates are going to be better for heart health than high GI, refined carbohydrates. This is due to the high fibre content and the effect of these carbohydrates on cholesterol levels.
But does this mean you are disadvantaged if you don’t include these foods in your diet?
Not necessarily. A low carb or ketogenic diet has been shown in numerous studies to improve cholesterol profiles, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and weight- all risk factors for heart disease. Furthermore, majority of the carbohydrates consumed in a low carb or ketogenic diet are from vegetables, which are high in fibre and micronutrients.
4. But every meal has carbs in it! What can I eat?
Plenty of things! Patients are often under the false impression that a low carb or ketogenic diet is highly restrictive- but it doesn’t have to be! The key is being creative and making use of the many many carbohydrate substitutes and recipes available on the Internet. And if you need some help, meal delivery services such as Five Point Four are here to save the day!
Five Point Four is the only meal delivery service that specifically caters for people on a low carb or keto diet, making it really easy for all my patients who are too busy to plan or cook. It is a subscription meal service which ends up being only $7.95 per a meal (still cheaper than eating out!). And they have plenty of variety. Five Point Four were kind enough to send me a few sample meals, and these covered a whole variety of different flavours such as chicken zucchini meatballs, Korean beef, Thai beef and Indian korma.
In my honest opinion, frozen meals are still frozen meals, and you just cannot expect from them what you would get out of a freshly cooked meal. But if you’re looking for something quick, easy, filling and suitable for the keto or low carb lifestyle, then they are definitely a good option.
If you would like more information or to place an order, please visit their website here. You can use my offer code DOCTOR15 at checkout for $15 off your first box.
If you would like to visit me in Warringah Mall for a bulk billed conversation about whether keto/LCHF is right for you, then click here to book an appointment.