Do Low Carbohydrate Diets Really Work?

Low Carbohydrate diets sometimes work and sometimes they do not. It all depends on how you use them. Understanding the different types of carbohydrates and when and how to eat them can help you live a more healthy and lean lifestyle.

Low carbohydrate diets are quite the fad. Many have experienced great success by losing ten, twenty pounds or more. But does this type of diet keep the weight off permanently? In this article we will discuss the facts and realities of low carbohydrate dieting. Also, we will introduce some common sense, realistic approaches on how to alter your carbohydrate consumption lifestyle so you can lose the extra fat and keep it off.

Carbohydrates, what are they? It is appropriate at this time to introduce some definitions and common terms concerning carbohydrates. Carbohydrates act as the primary fuel source for the body. There are several types of carbohydrates. The three main types of carbohydrates are as follows: Monosaccharides (one sugar molecules); Disaccharides (two sugar molecules); and Polysaccharides (three or more sugar molecules).

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are also known as sugars or simple carbohydrates. Other common names for monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, sorbitol, galactose, mannitol and mannose. Disaccharides are also known as sucrose, maltose and lactose. Sucrose (simple table sugar) is made of glucose plus fructose. Maltose is made of glucose plus glucose. Lactose is made of glucose plus galactose.

Polysaccharides are called complex carbohydrates or glucose polymers. Polysaccharides are also known as starch, dextrin, cellulose and glycogen. All of these are made of chains of glucose.

Fibersinclude cellulose, hemicellulous, pectin, a variety of gums, mucilages and algae polysaccharides. Fibers are the indigestible complex carbohydrates that make up plant cell walls.

Glycogenis similar to starch found in plants in that it contains chains of glucose units. Its structure is different in that starch occurs only in plants and glycogen occurs only in animals.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of glucose and glucose is the primary fuel source for the brain and nervous system. Because the human body has a small and limited storage capacity for glycogen, it is important to provide a constant supply of carbohydrates by eating throughout the day.

Some carbohydrates are better for the human body than others. I prefer to divide carbohydrates into 3 categories. The first category is classified as simple carbohydrates. These simple carbohydrates include fruits and sweets. The second category is called Fibrous carbohydrates. This includes vegetables. The final category is classified as starchy carbohydrates. This includes grains, starchy vegetables, corn and beans.

The simple carbohydrates digest quickly and easily. They are high in sugar and sweet to taste. A small amount (2-3 servings max) per day is recommended. In fact, because simple carbohydrates break down into glucose so rapidly, they tend to be higher in carbohydrates and are not as nutrient dense as the other two categories of carbohydrates. It is best to consume simple carbohydrates only once per day and before noon if you are trying to lose body fat. Simple carbohydrates include all fruit, sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc. When you eat simple carbohydrates try to eat fruit instead of processed or baked sweets.

Eat very sparingly or better yet, eliminate cookies, candy, cakes, soft drinks, etc. These tend to be very high in sugar content and very low in nutritional value. When you commit to living a lean lifestyle, every calorie counts; make each calorie a nutritionally beneficial one.

Fibrous carbohydrates are the most important class for healthy eating and a lean lifestyle. You can eat as many fibrous vegetables as you want. Strive for at least 4 servings per day. Fibrous carbohydrates tend to be low calorie, low carbohydrate and packed full of vitamins and minerals. Fibrous carbohydrates include alfalfa sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, soybeans, zucchini, green beans, bell pepper, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, okra, onions, spinach, snow peas, tomatoes, radish, etc. Because fibrous carbohydrates contain lots of water and fiber, they can make you feel full and satisfy your appetite. Fibrous carbohydrates are the key to maintaining a lean body.

Starchy carbohydrates are important too, yet they should be eaten in moderation if you want to achieve and maintain a lean lifestyle. Starchy carbohydrates include potatoes, wheat, legumes, rice, oats, pasta, yams and peas. This type tends to be high in calories and high in carbohydrate count. Limit starchy carbohydrates to 2-3 servings maximum per day and eat them early in the day. I make it a point to not eat starchy carbohydrates after 4 p.m. It is important to eat starchy carbohydrates before a workout session to provide energy, but do not eat right before bedtime. When starchy carbohydrates are eaten just before bedtime, excess calories may be stored as fat if not utilized.

What about those no carbohydrate or very low carbohydrate diets?
Stay away from them!! They can be very dangerous. If a fad diet plan tells you to eat less then 50 grams of carbohydrate per day, DO NOT DO IT. The human brain requires at least 50 grams of carbohydrates per day just to maintain brain function. Less than that and you may seriously starve your brain. Dizziness, lightheadedness and inability to think are common effects of too few carbohydrates. A safe range for low carbohydrate consumption is between 70 and 100 grams per day. For fat loss, I recommend eating in the low range for 3 days and then normal for 3 days. This way your body can lose fat and still maintain your physical and mental health.

Once glycogen enters the body, one gram of glycogen is stored with about three grams of water. When the body uses glycogen stores, water is lost too. Many fad diets that promote a low calorie and high protein regime take advantage of this phenomenon. Liver and muscle glycogen can be depleted in 24 to 48 hours and can result in several pounds of weight loss from water weight alone. Do not confuse this weight loss with fat loss. This is not all fat loss. Also, because most weight loss diets are low in calories, within a few days the body will eliminate much gastrointestinal bulk. This can also be mistakenly perceived as lost body fat. After a week or two, several pounds of water and gastrointestinal bulk may be lost and only a pound or two of fat. This is one reason why quickly, seemingly overnight, all the weight lost over the previous week is gained back.

O.k. so now you know low calorie fad diets are not the way to go. So what is? One rule of thumb that I have always tried to live by is this:

Eat starchy carbohydrates for what you are about to do, not for what you have just done.As mentioned above, eat starchy carbohydrates before your workout or before activity. If you are not embarking on any activity for the next three hours, and plan to sit at your desk or watch TV, then eat only fibrous carbohydrates. If you need a quick pick-me-up or if you are craving something sweet, then eat simple carbohydrates (fruit). The goal is to eat what you can use and burn within 3 hours. Any food not utilized before sleep is more likely to be stored as fat. And as we know, this is counterproductive to losing excess stored body fat.

Long-term leanness does not mean starving. Nor does it mean doing 3 hours of cardiovascular activity every single day. Here is an example of my typical day. I am a woman weighing 130 pounds. I do cardiovascular exercise every morning for 30 to 45 minutes, and weight train 5 days per week at 8 a.m. in the morning.

7 a.m. Breakfast:
7 egg whites, Less than 1 cup refried beans, with salsa
Less than 1 cup oatmeal with 1-teaspoon fructose or sugar
1/2 grapefruit

10 a.m. mid-morning meal:
5 ounce chicken breast
1 cup steamed broccoli

1 p.m. lunch:
1 can tuna packed in water w/ 1 T. low fat mayo.
1 cup green beans
1/2-cup rice

4 p.m. mid-afternoon meal:
5 ounce turkey breast
8 raw baby carrots

6 p.m. dinner:
5 ounces baked halibut
Green salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and 1 T. low fat salad dressing

9 p.m. bedtime

Notice how starchy carbohydrates are consumed only twice per day before 4 p.m. Fruit is consumed only once before noon, and the last meal contains protein and fibrous carbohydrates. I get hungry every 2-1/2 to 3 hours, so I eat. If I am not hungry within 3 hours of my last meal, then I know I ate too much at my previous meal. This typical day will have to be altered to meet your particular caloric needs. Adjust the serving sizes as needed.

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