In the world of eating to lose, cycling or limiting of carbohydrates is among the most popular and effective tools. Diets like Atkins made low and no carb eating popular. However, these diets are heavily flawed fad based programs. To divert as far from that as possible, I won’t even use the word DIET from here on out. This article will teach you how to eat low carb the right way!
How and why does low carb eating work?
While carbs are one of the three macronutrients that make up all the food we eat, they are the only that are nonessential.
Protein is comprised of amino acids, some of which our body can make on its own. However, the body cannot synthesize histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These must enter the body through food.
When it comes to fats, the body requires alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid) but is unable to synthesize them. These are essential fatty acids.
So what about carbs? The thing to remember is that carbs are not evil. The manipulation of them is simply a highly effective tool to achieve and maintain a healthy weight without sacrificing essential nutrients.
When you eat high glycemic carbs (white flour, sugar, refined starch) your blood sugar rapidly spikes and causes an insulin spike. This in turn leads to increased fat storage.
Low glycemic carbs (whole wheat, brown rice, vegetables) on the other hand causes a gradual increase in blood sugar levels so that the body can utilize it. Limiting carbs is effectively limiting caloric intake. Carbohydrates each contain 4 calories per gram. With that in mind let’s look at the types of carbs.
These are heavy foods like bread, rice, potato, etc. They still contain that four calories per gram, however they are denser in calories overall. 100 grams of sweet potato have an average of 20 grams of carbs.
These are foods like vegetables. They also contain four calories per gram but are largely comprised of fiber and water and are thus less dense. The same 100 grams of broccoli contain only 6 grams of carbs.
As you can see you can eat almost four times the amount of broccoli than sweet potato. An easy way to understand nutrient density is to look at the old debate of a pound. What is heavier? A pound of rocks or a pound of cotton? Rocks have more density thus less rocks accumulate to a pound faster than cotton.
HOW IT WORKS?
The science of plans like Atkins work on the basis that without carbs (the body’s main source of fuel) the body will resort to burning stored fat for fuel. This is true in a sense and flawed in another. The way this article is proposing is fat loss through reduction in caloric intake and slowly lessening non-essential calorie sources. The idea here is not to change the fuel, but to use more of different kinds of fuel.
Personally I think the whole idea of making carbs public enemy number one is foolish. Plus being Italian I’m a big fan of carbs in general.
LIMIT THE LESSEN- How to Eat Low Carb
The key to losing weight is to expend more calories than we eat. A good way to do this is to lessen the number of calories we intake. However, a drastic drop in calories can backfire. Reason being, if you eat the average American diet you’ll likely eat more calories than you need. Say you normally eat 2500 calories per day. Your body adapts to this and considers it normal. The human body is the greatest adapting entity ever! If all of the sudden you start eating 1200 calories per day your body panics. As a defense mechanism it will slow your metabolism and attempt to hold on to as much fat as it can.
However, if you taper your caloric reduction then the body doesn’t panic, it adapts. So using the same 2500 number you reduce to 2200. After a couple weeks we move down to 2000. What this does it allow the body time to adjust. This is basically the reverse of that blood sugar spike idea.
So, what we will do is for the first 2-3 weeks eat 1 gram of carbohydrate (from complex sources) per pound of bodyweight. At the end of week 3 we reduce that to .75 grams per pound. Finally, after 2-3 more weeks we will reduce to .5 grams per pound. You still want to keep your calories on par though because you are healthy and working out right? (the correct answer is a resounding YES!!) This is where you will be eating more fibrous vegetables to get more in with less density.
So in week one you might be eating
Breakfast: 3 eggs, 1 cup cooked oats, 1 banana
Lunch: 6 ounces grilled chicken, 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup mixed greens
Dinner: 6 ounces fish, a medium baked sweet potato, 1 cup chopped broccoli.
By week seven your meals may look more like this
Breakfast: 3 eggs, ½ cup cooked oats, 1 cup Greek yogurt
Lunch: 6 ounces grilled chicken, mixed green salad,
Dinner: 6 ounce sirloin, mixed green salad, 6 grilled asparagus spears
These are just examples and don’t reflect and real caloric intake, menu, or even fat intake.
The above plan is one form of reducing carbs over several weeks on a tapered system. Another approach is that of Carb Cycling. Carb cycling alternates high and low, or high, low, and moderate carb days during the week. See this example
Monday: High carb day 1.5 grams carbs per pound bodyweight
Tuesday: Moderate carb day .75 grams carbs per pound
Wednesday: Low carb day .5 grams per pound bodyweight.
Thursday: High carb day…
Personally I like the tapering method better as it is much easier to manage psychologically and practically. Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to succeed in weight loss by utilizing a predetermined eating menu. Another consideration is your carbohydrate tolerance.
What is a carbohydrate tolerance? Carb tolerance is basically the body’s ability to digest and utilize carbs in any of their varied forms. Factors like metabolic rate and digestive tract enzymes can determine whether you can eat more of one type of carb versus another. Usually this boils down to starch vs. fibrous.
A 2007 study looked at the behavioral and biological variations on carbohydrate metabolism. The study was based on the enzyme amylase (responsible for starch metabolism), more specifically salivary amylase, referred to as AMY1 by the researchers. They found that higher AMY1 levels were likely to improve the digestion of starch.
RAGE THE FIRE: FINAL THOUGHT
So you have reached the point where you have reduced carbs and are steadily losing weight. Congratulations. However, your metabolism needs a boost every so often. I like to think of it as a camp fire. You can keep a steady fire going by placing tiny sticks on it for a steady burn, but eventually it will burn too low. We need to hit it with a shot of lighter fluid to reinvigorate it. That lighter fluid in this case is a high carb day. On this day you will reintroduce those extra calories from carbs that you have been tapering. This also helps to keep Leptin levels steady. Leptin is a hormone that regulates metabolic rate. When calories are reduced for too long Leptin levels rapidly decline and weight loss is hindered. When Leptin levels are restored weight loss can be maintained.