Considering a low-carb diet? If you are, you’re probably running into a lot of conflicting beliefs on the subject. While many dieters have seen success by eliminating bread and pasta and all of the other high-carb foods credited with causing weight gain, there just as many who claim the diet didn’t help them in the long run, or that it wasn’t sustainable, or that they just felt hungry the entire time. The list goes on.
So what’s the truth about eating low carb? Is it good for you? Bad for you? Will it help you reach your weight loss goals for the new year? In order to get to the bottom of the commonly believed myths about low carb dieting and decipher fact from fiction, we enlisted the help of a few nutritionists to share their expert take on the issue. Read on for what they had to say on the truth about low-carb dieting.
All carbs are bad and make you fat
Completely not true. “The truth is, not all carbs are created equal,” says Shoshana Pritzker, registered dietician. “We can separate carbs into high-fiber whole grains, fruits, vegetables and then sugary, starchy carbs. The latter are the ones responsible for weight gain and chronic disease like type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. Filling your diet with high-fiber whole grains, fruits and vegetables will keep you energized while providing essential fiber to keep your bowels moving efficiently. They will not make you fat when consumed in proper portion sizes.”
Low-carb diets will always help you lose weight
If you guessed that this one was a tall tale, you’re correct. “A common myth is that low-carb diets will always help you lose weight,” says nutritional therapist Michelle Hoover. “That isn’t necessarily true, especially for women. Glucose from carbohydrates is needed to properly convert the thyroid hormone in the body, which directly regulates our weight. If we go too low carb, we can actually risk gaining weight as a result of not having enough thyroid hormone to regulate our metabolism.” Not to mention, eliminating too many carbs can also put an added strain on your body. “Going too low carb also can put our body in a stressed state,” Hoover says, “thus taxing our adrenal response and contributing to more cortisol output which can also cause weight gain.” So, what’s the happy medium here? “Rather than going too low carb, enjoy nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and fruits,” Hoover recommends.
Low-carb diets are unsustainable long term
Bad news for those who have experienced short term success on a low-carb diet: Sustaining this type of diet long term is pretty unrealistic. “A low low-carb diet is unsustainable in the long term,” says Andrea Beaman, a holistic health coach. “Low carb may work for a while, as the person starts losing weight and gains more clarity of mind. But mostly that’s because they take out all the highly refined carbs (sugar, candy, soda), and generally start eating better. What I’ve seen in my practice is if someone goes on a low-carb diet for too long, they crash. Eat your carbs, just make sure they are good carbs like fruit, non-starchy and starchy vegetables, whole grains and beans.”
Low-carb diets are also low calorie
Another one that’s false. The thing about any type of diet with an emphasis on lowering a certain food group is that typically, this means something else on the food pyramid is getting kicked into high gear.
Low-carb diets are the exact opposite of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “If carbs are low, something has to be high, and that is fat and protein, says Shari Portnoy, R.D. “Higher-fat diets add more calories, a direct correlation with obesity. Obesity is associated with diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. In addition, ‘carb’ has a lot of connotations, but are what is recommended for 60% of our diet. Fruits and vegetables are also carbs, and that is where you find the antioxidants.”
A low-carb diet will give you more energy
Also false. In fact, stripping all carbs from your diet will actually do the opposite. “Low-carbohydrate diets can also deplete your energy as well as make you feel sluggish, ‘hangry,’ irritable, moody and more likely to binge or crave sugary carbohydrate foods after you have been eliminating them,” says Stacy Goldberg, R.N. and founder of Savorfull. “This is especially true if you eliminate fruits, veggies and high-fiber foods which are satisfying and filling. This is also hazardous if someone is an athlete or an avid exerciser as their primary fuel source is carbohydrates.”