Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Do 6 amazing body changes really occur when you give-up carbs?

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This article is nearly two years old now but given that I just saw it shared on social media recently, and the number of evangelical LCHF preachers around, I think it’s worth talking about.

Can we start by discussing that headline? 6 Amazing Body Changes When You Give Up Carbs. Stated as if magical things will occur in your cells, transforming you into a superhuman. Stated as if it’s a given that giving up carbs is the miracle cure for the imperfect vessel of flesh in which you reside. Stated as if these six amazing changes are guaranteed to occur no matter who you are.

So, what are these six amazing changes?

  1. When You Give Up Carbs…You Start Burning Fat

This is not necessarily true. It depends on what you replace the carbs in your diet with. If you replace the carbs in your diet with protein, you’ll burn protein. If you replace the carbs in your diet with fat, you’ll burn fat. If you create a caloric deficit by giving up carbs then you’ll burn fat and probably muscle because you’ll need to get energy to function from somewhere.

2. When You Give Up Carbs…You Feel Less Hungry

If you are creating a caloric deficit by giving up carbs then, sorry, you are going to feel hungry. Reducing your food intake does not immediately result in a reduction in hunger. However, if you are able to maintain a low carb diet and enter into ketosis there is some research that shows you may experience some suppression of appetite.

3. When You Give Up Carbs…Your Belly Gets Flatter

Here the author is stating that your belly will become flatter if you replace simple carbs with high-fibre foods. This is not really a benefit of a low-carb diet, but a benefit of increased fibre intake (and their suggestion to swap white bread for whole grain is certainly not low-carb). However, for many people, increasing fibre can lead to gas and bloating, having the opposite effect of that claimed by the author. That being said, most people should consume more fibre, being sure to increase consumption gradually along with plenty of fluids to avoid blockages. With time, your body will adjust to increased fibre intake.

4. When You Give Up Carbs…You Slash Your Risk of Diabetes

To date, there is no research to support this. While a low-carb diet may help some people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar, it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone and there is no data to show that a low-carb diet will prevent diabetes. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables and regular exercise and physical activity are the best ways to prevent type 2 diabetes. There is no need to go to the extreme and cut out carbs to prevent disease. Also, depending what those carbs are replaced with, you may end-up increasing your risk of developing other chronic diseases.

5. When You Give Up Carbs…Your Muscles Get Stronger

This would only be the case if you were consuming insufficient protein (extremely uncommon in the Western world) before embarking on a low-carb diet. If you are consuming adequate protein, adding more protein will be of no benefit to your muscles. Also, without working your muscles they’re not going to get bigger. You can’t just sit around drinking protein shakes all day and expect to get swole.

6. When You Give Up Carbs…You Feel More Energized

Not all carbs are bad, of course. Your body needs carbohydrates to function properly, and they’re especially important for adequate brain and muscle function. By switching from simple carbs to more long-running fuel—fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and other whole-grain options—you’ll ensure you have a steady flow of energy and avoid the ups and downs that simple carbs cause.

Way to stick this in the last bullet and undermine the entire premise of the article. This is not a benefit of a low-carb diet. If you are switching from refined simple carbs to complex carbs and whole grains you are simply following that lame old unsexy advice that we dietitians have been repeating for decades.

Let’s not even get into the fact that whole wheat bread has pretty much the same glycemic load as white bread per serving.

I think the author also missed a few other “amazing body changes” that happen when you “give-up” carbs such as, fatigue (which generally goes away after a few days or weeks), flatulence, bad breath, and irritability.

What it comes down to, is that the author is conflating low-carb diets with low-simple carb diets and mixing the claims about the two diets together in this list.

While some people can live happily and healthily on low-carb diets, most people can live (likely more) happily and just as healthily on diets that are not low in carbs.

 

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I guess some RDs are sexy

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Eat big meals… Fat goes quick! Photo by L’imaGiraphe (en travaux) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons LIcence.

Right on the heels of my post about we dietitians not being sexy, this article comes out in the Daily Mail, and I’m forced to eat my words (good thing there are no forbidden foods!). Dietitian Trudi Deakin is proclaiming a high-fat, low-carb diet to be the be all and end all, and she’s written the book to “prove” it. Sigh.

Now, as you (my regular readers) know, I’m certainly not one to shy away from fat. New readers, My original by line was “real dietitians eat butter”. However, I also subscribe to the school of thought that says too much of anything is bad for you. Be it fat, salt, sugar, or carrots. You can have too much of a good thing. According to Trudi, saturated fat is the key. While it’s become widely accepted that saturated fat is not the demon it was once believed to be, that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly a dietary super hero.

Trudi claims that her diet is 82% fat, and she’s never felt healthier. She alleges that high-carb diets are fuelling the obesity epidemic. The gist is that low-fat was wrong so low-carb must be right. Why do we have to go from one extreme to another? I’ll say the same thing about this that I said about demonizing sugar: blaming one nutrient for obesity or chronic disease isn’t getting us anywhere. These are complex problems that aren’t going to be remedied with simple solutions.

This 82% fat has me curious though. What would a diet that’s 82% fat look like? According to Trudi:

BREAKFAST: Three eggs cooked in the microwave with butter and cheese, like a souffle, served with oily fish – smoked salmon or mackerel – or avocado.

LUNCH:A bowl of berries with double cream or a homemade walnut scone, made with ground almonds rather than flour, served with double cream

DINNER: Meat or fish with a serving of vegetables cooked in butter 

Just for fun, I entered this meal plan into my fitness pal to find out the breakdown. Obviously without quantities, it’s near impossible to say exactly what caloric and macronutrient totals would look like. Based on one serving of each of the items listed above, I would only be consuming 995 kcal, and fat would account for roughly 40% of these. If Trudi’s diet is being accurately reported, she’s obviously consuming greater quantities than I recorded, particularly of the high-fat foods. Regardless, it doesn’t sounds overly appealing to me. I’d rather be a few pounds heavier and die a couple of years earlier than never have cereal for breakfast, never snack, and put butter on everything (as much as I love butter).

While Trudi may be content with this restrictive diet for now, it will be interesting to see what will happen with time. Most people following low-carb diets find them to be extremely difficult to follow over the long-term and usually relinquish them. Aside from the difficulty adhering to these low-carb, high-fat diets, there are other risk factors to consider.

Children with epililepsy following ketogenic diets provide us with some insight into the long term effects of a ketogenic diet. A study of children following a ketogenic diet found that poor growth was common. Other side effects were kidney stones and bone fractures.

There’s some other misinformation in the article. Trudi states that she consumes 30 grams of protein at breakfast because “your body doesn’t store it.” Um… I don’t know where this is coming from. While 30 calories at breakfast is certainly reasonable, excess calories, regardless of macronutrient, will be stored as fat.

The unfortunate thing about most weight management research is that “long term” equals several months to a year. While someone might experience weight loss, and find a high-fat diet relatively easy to adhere to for a few months, years, or a lifetime, are a far different story. Trudi’s been following this diet for less than year. Let’s see the tune she’s singing in a decade. Until then, you might want to take her high-fat diet with a grain of salt, or better yet, a baked potato.