Low-Carb Diet for Beginners: Part 1

North Americans have been told for decades that fat is detrimental to our health but we’ve learned a lot about a low-carb diet that says otherwise. This advice is what led to a push toward all the low-fat products you (still) see in grocery stores. Is fat really the enemy it’s been made out to be? Certain fats, such as hydrogenated oils should be avoided. Also known as trans-fat, hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. Bad fats like those aside, we need good fat to function properly.

Is fat good for you and why is it part of a low-carb diet?

Good fats include ‘polyunsaturated fatty acids.’ Within this family of fats, there are ‘omega-3-fatty acids’ and ‘omega-6-fatty acids.’ Both are “essential” fatty acids because your body can’t manufacture them—you must get them from food. They are also essential because they have been shown to support the function of your cell receptors. They have been shown to be vital to cardiovascular health by helping to make hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and they have been shown to help prevent inflammation. They have even been shown to help regulate genetic function. Omega-3 fats, found in foods like flaxseed and fish, have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control autoimmune conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema, and may play protective roles in cancer and other diseases. So the lesson here is good fat’s where it’s at!

Are carbs bad for you?

More and more research suggests sugar, a major source of carbohydrate in our Western diet, is our true enemy and something we need to avoid. According to the Canadian Clinicians of Therapeutic Nutrition, there is good evidence that “sugar (especially fructose), as opposed to fat, is the main driver of obesity and diabetes, and medical research is now implicating sugar in heart disease.”

A low-carb diet means fewer grams of carbohydrates and a higher proportion of fat in your diet. A low-carb diet is often referred to as a low-carb high-fat diet (LCHF) or a keto diet. A low-carb diet is low in carbohydrates, which are typically found in sugary foods (often processed foods) and foods made from grains like bread and pasta. To do low-carb “right,” you need to focus on real, nutritious whole foods and whole food ingredients like those containing protein, healthy fats and lots of vegetables of different kinds.

Why do people go low-carb?

Although controversial and not suitable for everyone, some studies suggest low-carb diets offer a variety of health benefits, such as helping to manage and reverse diabetes and weight loss support. Low-carb diets have been recommended by many doctors for decades. Regardless, you should never make dietary changes without consulting with your doctor first, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take insulin for diabetes or take blood pressure medication, as a low-carb diet is typically not recommended in these situations. Also, individuals with kidney problems (including kidney stones) should avoid low-carb diets because they are often high in protein and health experts recommend avoiding a high protein diet in those cases.

Should you go low-carb?

Not everyone should go on a low-carb diet because it isn’t suitable for everyone and it can come with uncomfortable side effects. As previously mentioned, a low-carb diet has been shown to offer health benefits, particularly for those with weight concerns, diabetes or blood sugar issues. It is certainly not suitable for everyone, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take insulin for diabetes or take blood pressure medication, or have kidney problems (including kidney stones). If you choose to follow a low-carb diet, consult with your doctor first and make sure you are well informed and are getting all the nutrients your body requires.

Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition
Harvard Health Publishing
Low Carb Index Studies
Nutrients Journal
Psychology Today

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