Everything You Need to Know About Low Carb Diet BenefitsArticle posted in: Diet & Nutrition
In recent years, research has been highlighting a variety of health benefits associated with consuming a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. These benefits often include weight loss, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, improved insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism—just to name a few of the low carb diet benefits.
Low Carb Diet Benefits and the Carb Effect
To better understand the low carb diet benefits and how these benefits can enhance your weight loss and improve your metabolic health, you need to understand how your body processes carbohydrates. When you eat a carbohydrate-rich food, your body will start the digestive process and break down that food into the simple sugar glucose, often referred to as blood sugar. From the digestive system, glucose enters your blood. This surge of glucose in the blood then triggers your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps to move the glucose from the blood into the body’s cells, where it is used to fuel a variety of metabolic processes.
This system is important to help fuel the body. However, we encounter negative health outcomes when this process happens too quickly, as is seen when carbs are digested too quickly and large amounts of glucose enters the blood at one time. When glucose enters the blood too quickly, the pancreas secretes larger amounts of insulin. While insulin is important for getting the glucose into the cells, it is also a hormone that causes hunger. Essentially, it goes like this: you eat refined carbs, which are digested quickly because they lack fiber to slow down the process, blood sugar spikes quickly, a large amount of insulin is released to move the blood sugar into your cells causing your blood sugar to drop quickly as the glucose is sent into the cells. This leads to low blood sugar resulting in cravings and hunger.
This cycle happens over and over again when consuming refined carbs. Over time, if the body continually has high levels of glucose in the blood, the cells will become resistant to insulin, which then requires the pancreas to secrete even more insulin to get sufficient glucose into the cell—further instigating this cycle of high and low blood sugar. To better understand this cycle, check out the chart below:
Another factor that can impact your health is how much glucose enters the body’s cells. If you consume more carbohydrates than needed to meet your daily energy needs, the excess glucose that is broken down from those carbs still enters your cells. But because it is not needed for energy, the cells store the glucose as fat. Fat that gets stored deep within the visceral tissue of the abdomen can lead to a variety of metabolic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Quality and Quantity of a Low Carb Diet
When adhering to a low carb diet, it is important to focus on both the quality and the quantity of carbohydrates in your diet. This is important because when we dig deeper into the weeds of what truly defines a low carbohydrate diet in many clinical studies, we start to see that one of the most important concepts to understand is that “low” carb does not mean “no” carb.
It is not realistic, nor is it healthy, to restrict all carbohydrates from the diet for an indefinite amount of time. Low carbohydrate, high protein diets do provide some level of carbs. Most low carb diets provide anywhere from 20 – 40% of total calories from carbohydrates. The remainder of your calories are from Lean Proteins and Healthy Fats.
Some low carbohydrate diets, like the South Beach Diet, restrict carbohydrates initially as part of an induction phase to reset your body’s metabolic processes, but these diets will slowly start to reintroduce high-quality carbs back into the diet. And, it is important to remember that even in most induction phases of low carb diets, your body is still getting some carbohydrates from fiber-rich, nutrient- dense vegetables.
Not only is it important to think about the overall quantity of the carbohydrates you eat on a daily basis, but it is also important to consider the quality of the carbohydrates that you do consume. Ideally, a low carbohydrate diet reduces refined carbohydrates and added sugars. Refined carbs include processed grains like white rice, pasta, bread and muffins. Foods high in added sugar include sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets like cookies and cakes; however, it is not always the highly processed foods that are packed with added sugars, even canned and frozen fruit may have added sugar.
While these lower-quality carbohydrates are reduced in the diet, a low carbohydrate diet will continue to deliver high-quality complex carbohydrates, like fiber-rich whole grains, beans, legumes and starchy vegetables. The exception here is fruit, which by definition is a simple carbohydrate. However, most low carbohydrate diets will include some fruit because fruit provides adequate amounts of fiber, which help slow down the impact that the simple sugars will have on blood glucose and insulin. And, fruit delivers a variety of phytonutrients, which have been shown to have positive impacts on your health. On South Beach Diet, you can enjoy a serving of fruit in Phase 2; though, you should keep to whole fruit so that you get enough fiber, which is often highest in the skin of the fruit.
When it comes to weight loss, the 2013 Guidelines for the Management which is endorsed by several professional organizations, including the American Heart Association, note that a variety of diet approaches are effective, including a low carbohydrate diet. The key is to find a diet that you can stick to because weight loss and maintenance are about a lifestyle, not a quick fix. While the abundance of low carb diet benefits are evident in research, it is important to fully understand the low carb lifestyle.
A low carb, high protein approach may be easier for some to stick with for the long run because of the impact it has on hormones (such as insulin and other hunger hormones). The important thing to remember is that on any low carb diet, it is about both the quantity and the quality of the carbohydrates that are included, and the inclusion of high-quality, complex carbohydrates cannot be overlooked.