To Carb or Not to Carb: That is the Question

If you've followed or have considered following a low-carb diet in order to lose weight, then you don't want to miss out on this article. As a nutrition expert and weight loss specialist, I'm dishing out the truth about one of our country's most popular fad diets.

There is so much controversy out there today about whether or not you should eat carbs or whether the low-carb diet is the way to go in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, the controversy is based on misinformation and hype rather than fact. The truth is, carbohydrate is one of the three main sources of calories required by our bodies (in addition to protein and fat) and is absolutely ESSENTIAL to a healthy diet and a healthy body. In fact, our brain uses carbohydrate, in the form of glucose, as its most efficient source of energy (as opposed to protein and fat). Cutting all or most carbs from your diet for extended periods of time can have many ill effects on your body, including but not limited to, headaches, loss of concentration, fatigue, constipation, and increased risk for long-term health problems including certain cancers.

What does carbohydrate do for us anyway? Carbohydrates are essential to your diet for many reasons, but first let's discuss which foods contain carbs because once you know which foods contain carbs you can quickly figure out what nutrients your diet will be missing without them. Carbs are found in grains, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereal, crackers, and oatmeal, all fruit and fruit juice, milk and yogurt, starchy vegetables, such as peas, potatoes, beans, and corn and, of course, sweets. There is also a small amount of carbohydrate in non-starchy vegetables, such as salad greens, carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus but only about a third of the amount that is in the starchy ones. When you delete carbs from your menu, you take out great sources of fiber (necessary for a healthy GI tract), calcium, vitamins and minerals including potassium, vitamin C, folic acid, and many other antioxidants, or disease fighters.

Now, obviously, sweets aren't essential to our diet in order to provide nutrients. However, in my opinion, sweets in moderation ARE essential for most people to actually be able to maintain an otherwise healthy diet in the long run. If you normally eat sweets on a regular basis and then abruptly cut them out for a fad diet (e.g., a low-carb diet), it is very difficult and nearly impossible for most people to avoid them long-term. It leads to discouragement and causes the average dieter to give up and then make up for lost time. Whenever your diet makes you feel deprived, you are likely to give up and then rebound by overeating on the foods you've avoided.

Aside from the potential health risks, I think the single biggest problem with a low-carb diet is that it is simply too difficult to maintain. It's just like any other fad diet out there; it causes you to take one step forward and then two steps back. It provides quick weight loss initially (in the form of water, not fat). Then, as the weeks go on (if you can stick with it that long), you continue to lose only because you have reduced your calorie intake[1], not because a low-carb diet is the magic bullet. Let me explain. For many, a low-carb diet is appealing because you can eat all the meat, bacon, eggs and cheese you want. However, it doesn't take long to lose your appetite for those foods; you get your fill pretty quickly. The diet is so restrictive that you end up eating fewer calories than before you started the diet, hence the key to weight loss- a reduction in calorie intake.

Most people decide that a low-carb diet is too hard to maintain because they miss carbs too much, and they give up. Here's the kicker; not only do most dieters give up, but they then make up for lost time. They binge on the foods they've avoided for so long and then gain back more weight than they lost. If you're considering any sort of "diet" to lose weight, just ask yourself this one question: "Can I maintain this diet for the rest of my life?" If not, then don't waste your time on it in the first place because as soon as you stop following the diet, you will regain all the weight you lost. You will only lose weight and keep it off for as long as you're willing to follow the diet.

In order to answer the question posed in the title of this article (To Carb or Not to Carb), keep in mind that all you have to do to lose weight is lower your calorie intake (and/or spend more calories in physical activity). You don't have to cut out an entire calorie source, such as carbs, and you don't need to practically starve yourself. You simply need to cut back wherever you're overeating. Potatoes, pasta, and bread don't make you fat; overeating does. You can include all foods in your diet IN MODERATION, including carbs, and still lose weight.

--------- [1] According to research by Zonya Foco, RD (author, TV host, and national speaker). As she interviewed person after person on a low-carb diet, she found that on average, they were only consuming about 1400 calories per day. This means that a low- carb diet causes weight loss due to a reduction in calorie intake, not because cutting carbs is the magic bullet to weight loss.


April Adams
www.AntiFadDiet.com

I am a Registered Dietitian and author with years of experience in weight loss counseling. If you want to learn how to eat healthier and lose weight in the most practical, painless way possible, please visit my website.

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