Looking to lose weight? Try our FREE Calorie Counter »  |  Log In
Articles Fitness Nutrition

Is a Low Carbohydrate Diet Healthy?

By Aaron Ander, RNCP

The claim is that weight loss can be achieved simply by reducing or eliminating carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are the body's main fuel source so when we go on a "low carb" diet, we begin to use fat and protein for energy.  This will come from the diet as well as protein and fat stores in the body.

Is it good for me?
It is normal for the body to use fats, proteins and carbohydrates as energy, but it typically prefers carbohydrates.  For example, in cardiovascular exercise the body will be less tired with a steady supply of glucose from carbohydrates.  That's why runners have sports drinks during a marathon.  Sugar is like the pilot light in a gas furnace.  For this reason, it may not be ideal to eliminate carbohydrates when on a regular fitness program.  

Complex carbohydrates from whole grains contain B vitamins that help support a healthy hormone balance as well as brain communication and normal metabolism.  They also provide energy by helping turn food (fuel) into energy (ATP).   So, taking a B complex vitamin will help make the low carbohydrate diet healthier.

What about carbohydrate cravings?
On a low carbohydrate diet, the body needs to create sugar out of protein.  If low blood sugar is a problem, such as with hypoglycemia, a low carbohydrate diet may actually increase sugar cravings.  However, there is some benefit to increasing protein, as apposed to reducing carbohydrates, for sugar cravings.  Following a diet that is low on the glycemic index may also help.  

Should I reduce my carbohydrates if I want to loose weight?
Weight loss is an individual affair.  The best approach is to measure your dietary calories and figure out how much you are burning based on your activity levels.  Eating fewer calories than your body needs will typically result in weight loss.   Also more calories are burned with greater muscle mass, so strength training is helpful too.  Finally, the health of the metabolism comes into play.   Maintaining a healthy weight comes from a combination of good nutrition, exercise and overall health.

How much carbohydrate is healthy?
Fitness training puts a big demand on the body.  Depending on your fitness program, your nutrition will have to change to meet the body's needs.  

Endurance - A diet of around 50% carbohydrates is helpful for increasing endurance.  "Carbohydrate loading" is proven to increase endurance by helping the body to burn fats as energy.  Also it is helpful to have carbohydrate-rich snacks after a workout or race to help replace the stores of glycogen for future runs.

Weight training - Fewer carbohydrates in the diet mean the body needs to convert more protein for energy.  Since the main nutrient for strength training is protein, it is not very wise to cut out the carbohydrates completely.  Eliminating carbohydrates may result in the body breaking down the muscle tissue for energy.   

Weight loss - Limiting carbohydrates in the diet, combined with some kind of fitness program, is a sensible approach to weight loss.  However, in the long term, we need the nutrients that come from complex carbohydrates.  Whole grains are loaded with B vitamins which help in the breakdown of fats for energy.  Also, starchy vegetables help with feeling full and satisfied after a meal.  

Choose wholesome complex carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates tend to be deficient in nutrients.  When you do have a starchy meal, make sure that you choose whole grains, beans, and vegetables instead of refined flour products and simple sugars.  Try and avoid extremism by finding the balance that makes sense to you.  

Aaron Ander is a holistic health care consultant and educator with a background in nutrition, iridology, reiki, biochemistry and muscle testing.  With many personal health challenges as a child, Aaron struggled his way to good health and overcame disease using natural means alone.  This success led to a diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition and a relentless pursuit of the roots of illness.  He has visited and lived on organic farms in an effort to understand what constitutes a truly holistic life.  Aaron currently lives with family in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, where he writes articles for the holistic health community and has a healing practice. To contact Aaron please visit www.naturalpathhealing.com.

Article Comments