Low carb diets have been popular on and off since the dawn of the Atkins fame (and maybe even earlier?).
But, what exactly defines low carb? Does eating this way actually help with weight loss? Are there any other health benefits (or risks) to eating fewer carbs? What possible role can our genes play?
WHAT IS A CARB?
A carb, or carbohydrate, is one of our three main macronutrients. Carbs, along with protein and fat that are needed for optimal health in quantities larger than vitamins and minerals which are micronutrients.
Carbohydrates come in three main types:
Sugars are the smallest (molecule) carb. There are many different kinds of sugars, beyond the well-known table sugar (sucrose) or fruit sugar (fructose).
Starches are longer chains of many sugars bound together. Starches are broken down by our digestive enzymes into sugars. These sugars are then absorbed and metabolized in much the same way as if we ate sugar itself.
Fibre, on the other hand, is also a long chain of sugars, but these are not broken down by our digestive enzymes. Fibre passes through our system, feeds our friendly gut bacteria, and then takes food waste out the other end.
Because fibre isn’t digested like sugars and starches, it’s often excluded from the carb calculation.
WHAT OUR GENES CAN TELL US ABOUT HOW WE METABOLIZE CARBS
When we eat carbs, our body absorbs the broken down sugar into our blood, thus raising our blood sugar. Depending on how high and fast our blood sugar rises, our body may release insulin to tell our cells to absorb that sugar out of our blood and use it as energy now or store it for later.
This is part of the theory as to why eating low carb diets may help with weight loss – by preventing the release of insulin, thus preventing the storage of excess calories.
But, our bodies are a bit more complicated than that and genetics can sometimes play a role in how efficiently we break down carbs.
Based on my own genetic testing, I know that I have a gene marker that is associated with suboptimal insulin response and increased risk of Type II diabetes, as well as moderate starch metabolism so I have an increased association between starch consumption and weight gain.
On the other hand, thanks to my APOA2 gene, I have a reduced association to weight gain in response to fat consumption.
So what this basically means is that I am a poor metabolizer of carbohydrates and that I’m better at fat metabolism. So I would be better suited to a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet.
HOW MANY CARBS IS LOW CARB?
There isn’t one single definition. And although I’m better at fat metabolism over carbs, it’s not always easy.
The average American eats about 300 g of carbs per day. Some people consider eating under 250 g of carbs per day to be the first threshold of a low carb diet. That’s really not that low in carbs, it’s lower carb, rather than low carb. Plus, if you’re new to cutting carbs, this level is easy to maintain and a good start (if you want to cut your carbs).
Taking that a step further, eating less than 150 g per day of carbs is considered a typical low carb diet.
On the extreme side, eating less than 50 g of carbs per day is considered to be very low carb – it falls under the ketogenic diet range. Eating so few carbs can actually change your metabolism into a ketogenic state. Eating this way can be difficult for many people to maintain but can be beneficial for your health if you are dealing with certain conditions.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF LOW CARB DIETS
Low carb diets have the benefit of preserving muscle mass during weight loss. They can also improve heart health biomarkers like cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Not to mention that eating fewer carbs can improve how our bodies manage those carbs in terms of insulin and fasting blood sugar levels – that can equal better moods and better ability to cope with anxiety and stress.
There can definitely be some non-weight-loss health benefits to eating fewer carbs!
Eating a low carb diet can be healthy, as long as it contains enough of all the essential nutrients. Some people may lose weight eating fewer carbs, and others won’t.
Low carb diets can help to improve how the body manages blood lipids and blood sugar, so it can be a healthy choice for some people, I know I fall into this category.
As with most things in nutrition, there isn’t a one size fits all rule. Low carb diets can be a good choice for many people, but it’s not the magic bullet that some people claim. Although, for some it is health changing!
What about you – have you tried (or do you currently) eat low carb? How many carbs do you eat per day? Have you had any great (or not so great) health effects from it? Let me know in the comments below.
Contact me to learn more about your options when it comes to genetic testing.
Recipe (Low carb): Baked Pickerel With a Side Salad
4 Fillets of Pickerel
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 large container of ready made Mediterranean Salad
EVOO and Vinegar for dressing
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Cover a large baking dish with parchment paper.
- Place fish on a lined dish and add spices.
- Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
- While the fish is baking prepare the Mediterranean salad with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Vinegar. *I love to add sea salt to my salad too.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip #1: You can roast veggies in another pan at the same time. Just chop, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Tip #2: If you have picky fish eaters in your house, try Pickerel. The flavour is sweet and mild and is great for people who are looking for a fish without that “fishy taste.”