Pros and Cons of the Low-Carb Diet
Thinking about going low carb? Think again! Today we will discuss the pros and cons of the low-carb diet to help you make an informed decision.
Ever since the early 2000’s, the low-carb trend reached its record highs and has since been jumping up and down in popularity. While some may improve their condition following a low-carb diet, chances are pretty high that they will regain the pounds they lost. Here are a few reasons why you should not be fanatic about going low-carb.
Carbohydrates are generally ‘stigmatized’ as bad for your health, or at least a lot of information going viral in all sorts of media claims it. Despite this deep-seeded idea, carbs are actually the only thing one can eat for weight loss, says Dr. Mark Hyman, medical director of the UltraWellness Center and New York Times best-selling author. He even recommends a carb-rich diet to those who want to lose weight (smartly).
You think carbs are responsible for insulin resistance, heart disease, and other similar concerns? While some are, avoid the pitfall of generalization! The truth about carbohydrates is far more complicated than it may seem. The carbs category itself includes a wide variety; for example, both cauliflower and a hot fudge sundae are carbohydrates, although they are completely different foods, Hyman explains.
Actually, to disparage this carbs myth, all plant-based foods fall into the carbohydrates category. These are qualified by Dr. Hyman ‘slow carbs’, which are low-glycemic and hence don’t cause any blood sugar or insulin imbalance. Slow carbs are packed with fiber, nutrients, and phytochemicals.
To give you an example, eating a wealth of fresh veggies and fruits loaded with phytonutrients such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols, all of which are well-known for their ability to kick start the immune system and contribute to improving almost all health concerns, including diabetes, dementia, and even slow down the aging process.
As much as 75% of your daily carbohydrate intake should be plant-based, coming from non-starchy vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, Hyman suggests. ‘By volume’, he explains in an article published by Aloha magazine, ‘most of your plate should be carbs. […] Most plant-based carbs actually have very few calories’.
Not All Carbs Are Equal
While carbohydrates are good for the overall health and function of the brain, not all of them are healthy! All the goodies such as doughnuts, bread, bagels, buns, rolls, sweets are also high in carbs. However, all of these being highly processed foods; the carbs contained therein are far from being healthy carbs. All the nutrients and fiber naturally contained in the carbohydrate molecule are burned during processing, so what you’re left with is the ‘fat-and-puffiness-growing’ part in carbs. That is why it’s best to stick to the real, nutritious carbs found in fruits and veggies.
Ever wondered what the mystery behind sugar cravings is(1)? Unfortunately, very few of us follow a healthy diet rich in greens and stick to it. We tend to eat more quickly-absorbed carbs from sugar, corn syrup high in fructose, and white flour, which are rapidly turned into fat and which more often than not, accumulates around your midsection. Here comes the tricky part, after eating a carb-rich meal, your insulin and blood sugar levels spike, which leaves you literally ‘starved.’ That’s where the sugar cravings come from!
However, it’s important to know that there’s a significant difference in the way in which carbohydrates impact your blood sugar levels. Calorie goes with calorie; while sugar is calorie, yet it is different from other calories coming from fat, protein, or non-starchy carbs like greens. Sugar muddles your normal appetite control, so the more you consume the more you will crave. In turn, this drives your metabolism to convert the sugar you eat into stubborn belly fat.
But, how can carbs be different from each other? To give you a simple example, let us think a little about soda and broccoli. They’re both sources of carbohydrates, yet 750 calories of soda and 750 calories of broccoli behave differently once they get into your system.
The fiber-free sugars in the soda are quickly absorbed by the gut. The glucose scrambles your blood sugar levels, creating a domino effect of high insulin and an avalanche of hormonal responses that set bad biochemistry in motion. The high insulin maximizes storage of fat around your midsection, inflammation, causes triglycerides to hike and decreases HDL, raises blood pressure, lowers testosterone in men and increases the risk of infertility in women.
By comparison, the carbs in broccoli, which are high in fiber and low in sugar, are slowly digested and do not cause any of the above. Additionally, these carbs contribute to reducing cancer risks and boost your body’s natural ability to detoxify.
This is a big difference, isn’t it? Slow, plant-based carbs cure rather than damage.
Make the Right Choice if You Want to Go Low-Carb
Proper carbs of ‘green’ origin shower you with health benefits, including good levels of vitamins, fiber, and unique plant compounds with antioxidant and healing attributes, such as phytonutrients and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are medicinal molecules like for instance curcumin found in turmeric, glucosinolates in broccoli, or anthocyanidins in berries and black rice, which jumpstart your metabolism and boost your immunity.
The majority of these foods are also high in fiber, which moderates the effects of the sugar found in them. That’s why eating a cup of blueberries has a significantly different effect compared with adding 4 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee. Both the sugar-loaded coffee and blueberries contain about 16 grams of sugar, but the phytonutrients and fiber in blueberries counteract their sugar content, whereas the sugar-high coffee plummets your blood sugar levels and dramatically increases your insulin, leaving you sugar starved.
Not only does fiber help balance blood sugar levels, but it also keeps the good bacteria in your gut well fed and purges your intestines, thereby supporting a healthy digestive system. If your diet is not so rich in fiber, try and fiber it up gradually, working your way up to 30 – 50 grams daily. Focus more on ‘viscous’ or ‘soft’ fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and low-glycemic-load fruits.
Once you start eating more low-glycemic greens, you will notice your weight slowly but surely normalizes. You will feel better and will be less (if at all) sugar starved, not to mention your reduce the risk for numerous diseases!
To make your food choices easier, Dr. Hyman color-coded the carbs, dividing them into four categories: green, yellow, red, and forbidden.
Forbidden Carbs – Stay Away From These Foods
Starting backward, with what you MUST NOT have in order to identify what you CAN have, these suggestions will give you an idea of what a healthy, low-carb diet should include.
Processed foods, including the so-called ‘low-carb foods’, are to be avoided. Although sometimes labeled as ‘no-sugar,’ or ‘low-carb,’ the majority of these products are also high in additives. That is why it’s best to stick to unprocessed foods. Most likely, the health claim on the label says exactly the opposite of what they are. Some examples include chips, processed bread, pastries, etc. Check nutrition labels, and give it a second thought before throwing it into your shopping basket!
Green Carbs: Feast On
Not by chance do green carbs come at the top of the list of suggestions for a balanced ‘low-carb’ diet. Feast on broccoli, asparagus, spinach, kale, chard, cabbage, bok choy and other similar legumes and vegetables! Slow-burning and low-glycemic, these greens should be the basis of your healthy weight-loss diet.
Don’t like broccoli? How about seaweed? Try a salad made of Kombu, nori, hijiki, or wakame. They’re all rich in minerals, protein, and other wondrous compounds. Let your taste rule and combine them in any way you like.
“Yellow” Carbs: Don’t Go Overboard
Whole grains are both healthy and tasty! Brown, black, and red rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and teff are all excellent choices of gluten-free whole grains. Black rice, for instance, is high in anthocyanidins containing about the same amount of these compounds as blueberries and is also low-glycemic. Called ‘the forbidden rice’ in ancient times, it was only eaten by Chinese emperors and with good reason. Containing around 160 calories per serving, black rice loads your dish with flavonoids, fiber, essential minerals, including iron and copper, and a good amount of plant-based protein. Not to mention that only the outside hull of this grain contains the highest levels of anthocyanins (antioxidants).
To give you an idea, a half-cup serving of cooked black rice or ¼ cup uncooked contains around (of the daily recommended values): 160 calories; 1.5 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, 4% DV iron.
Fiber-rich legumes, packed with phytonutrients are also highly recommended. They hinder the release of sugars into the bloodstream and prevent the excess insulin release leading to insulin resistance. Red, French or regular lentils, chickpeas, green and yellow split peas, soybeans (edamame), pinto, black, navy and other kinds of beans, and adzuki(2)are excellent if consumed with moderation.
Similarly, dark berries such as blueberries, cherries, blackberries, and raspberries are loaded with phytonutrients. The darker the color, the further away the doctor stays from your door. One half-cup daily of these is just enough to stabilize your blood sugar levels and kick start your metabolism. Organic frozen berries are an indispensable ingredient in your morning protein shakes.
Stone fruits such as plums, peaches, nectarines and their variants are loaded with fiber and ‘medicinal’ chemicals. Up to two pieces of these, every day provide the exact amount of healthy stuff your body needs to function properly.
Red Carbs: Keep It in Check
Eat a limited amount of the following foods:
Starchy, high-glycemic cooked veggies such as winter squashes made of peas, potatoes, corn, and root vegetables like beets. Starchy vegetables raise blood sugar levels quite quickly and hence, they should be consumed in smaller amounts (up to one-half cup daily) and ideally combined with other low-glycemic foods to buffer out the starchy, sugary content of the meal.
High-sugar fruits such as melons, grapes, or pineapple should also be eaten in limited amounts. A half-cup serving once a week is more than enough to get most of their benefits. If you’re following a low or no-sugar diet, it’s best to stay away from these altogether.
Tips and Tricks to Go Low-Carb
While it’s a slow-carb-rich diet is always healthy, Dr. Hyman suggests, in some cases a very low-carb diet can be super beneficial. For instance, people suffering from type 2 diabetes with high blood sugar levels, who may also be predisposed to obesity, will most likely need to cut back on starchy vegetables and fruit for a period of time before reintroducing them into their diet.
The trick is to incrementally introduce slow carbs. As symptoms improve (i.e.: insulin sensitivity), you can add a few more slow carbs to your menus, such as lentils, yams, fruit, and whole grains every now and then.
Once your insulin levels are stable and underlying issues sorted, you can go slow-carb! This means 30 grams of slow carbs per meal and 15 grams per snack.
Keeping your glycemic load to a minimum is a must if you’re diabetic. How to do that? Say ‘no’ too refined sugars, refined carbs, and processed foods. Similarly, if you want to eat grains, it’s best to keep them to a minimum. Ideally, stick to quinoa and black rice. Also, cut back on starchy, high-glycemic cooked vegetables like potatoes, corn, and root vegetables, such as turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas.
Another trick is to associate carbs with proteins, fiber, or anti-inflammatory fat to help buffer the sugar load of carbs.
Ideas for a Low-Carb Meal Plan
If you want to go low-carb, start with breakfast! Here are a few low-carb breakfast ideas you may find inspiring.
2 oz butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the eggs with a dash of salt and pepper.
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet. Make sure the butter doesn’t turn brown!
Pour the eggs over the butter and stir for 1-2 minutes, until they become creamy. Remember, the eggs will continue to cook even after you’ve removed them from the heat!
Note: Scrambled eggs are always among the first choices of a low-carb breakfast. They go excellently well with sausages, or even better with salmon, avocado, cheese (cheddar, fresh mozzarella, or feta cheese).
7/8 oz butter (for frying)
7/8 oz shredded cheese
1/5 yellow onion
2-3 mushrooms (sliced)
Salt and pepper to taste
Crack the eggs into a bowl and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth and frothy.
Add spices to taste.
Melt the butter in a frying pan. Then, pour the eggs over.
When it begins to cook but the egg on top is still raw, sprinkle the cheese, onion, and mushrooms on top.
Take a spatula and carefully ease around the edges of the omelet and fold it half. When it turns golden-brown underneath, remove the pan from heat and transfer the omelet to a plate.
Note: Because we said you could mix carbs with nutritious greens, a crispy, green salad with vinaigrette dressing would complete your low-carb breakfast perfectly. Yummy!
Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato with Oopsie Bread
6-8 tablespoons mayonnaise
43/4 oz bacon
1 tomato (thinly sliced)
Fresh basil (to taste)
41/4 oz cream cheese
1 pinch salt
½ tablespoon ground psyllium husk powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 300oF (150oC).
Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a bowl and the yolks in another.
Whip the whites with salt until stiff (as for marshmallows). You should be able to tip the bowl over without the whites dropping or moving.
Mix the yolks with the cream and cheese properly. Optionally add psyllium seed husk and baking powder (to make it look breadier).
Gently add the whites over the yolk mixture, trying to keep the air in the whites.
Place 8 oopsie's on a paper-lined baking tray.
Bake in the center of the oven at 300oF (150oC) for approximately 25 minutes or until they turn golden.
Fry the bacon.
Place the oopsie's upside down.
Spread 1-2 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise on each.
Add the lettuce, tomato and finely chopped fresh basil and fried bacon in layers between the bread halves. Enjoy immediately!
Wondering what to have for lunch on a low-carb diet? Here are a few easy tips.
Hamburger Patties with Butter-Fried Green Cabbage
1 ½ ground beef
3 1/4 feta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ¾ oz fresh parsley (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 oz butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the hamburger ingredients and form eight oblong patties.
Fry on medium-high heat in a butter and olive oil mix for at least 10 minutes, or until the patties turn a nice color.
Sprinkle the chopped parsley on top before serving.
Butter-Fried Green Cabbage
Shred the cabbage either with a knife or in a food processor.
Melt butter in a frying pan.
Sauté the cabbage over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes or until the color darkens and it becomes softer.
Stir regularly and lower the heat when it’s almost ready. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Creamy Chicken Casserole
2 lbs chicken thighs
7 oz shredded cheese
1 ¼ cups of heavy whipping cream (or sour cream)
2/3 lb cauliflower florets
4 oz cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons green pesto
½ lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
3 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
Mix the cream, pesto and lemon juice together, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Fry them in butter until they turn golden-brown.
Put the chicken in a baking dish and pour the cream mixture over it.
Chop the cherry tomatoes and the leak. Top the chicken with leek, tomatoes, and cauliflower.
Finally, sprinkle cheese on top and bake in the center of the oven for at least 30 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.
Note: A rich dish like this pairs super well with greens. So a salad with lettuce or spinach, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, a clove or two of garlic and a dash of oregano would be the just delicious touch to tickle your taste buds at lunch.
A light dinner would fit the culinary picture of your low-carb diet! |Fish is always a good option. Here’s an inspiring idea:
Low-Carb Salmon Pie
¾ cup almond flour (available in health stores)
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 tablespoons coconut flour
1 tablespoon ground psyllium husk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil (or coconut oil)
4 tablespoons water
½ lb smoked salmon
1 cup homemade mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh dill (finely chopped)
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ¼ oz cream cheese
1 ¼ cups shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Add the pie crust ingredients into a food processor that has a pastry blade. Pulse until the mixture becomes round like a ball. Alternatively, use a fork and knead it with your hands until it becomes a ball.
Tap a pan with a little bit of oil, just about enough to fit a piece of parchment paper into it (about 10-12-inch long or 23 cm).
Oil your fingers (if they’re not oily already) and gently press the pie dough into the pan. Pre-bake for 10-15 minutes or until it becomes a light brown color.
Mix the ingredients for the filling together, except the salmon. Pour the mix over the pie crust. Then, add the salmon and bake for 35 minutes or until it becomes golden-brown.
Let it sit for a few minutes at room temperature to cool down. Serve with salad or other vegetables.