The danger of “no carb” diets


Low carb, no carb, and here we go again…..  Following my ‘to carb or not to carb’ article I wanted to revisit this subject as eating healthily is a way of life not a short term diet thing, and since we’re now into March …. We’re just about heading for ‘normal services to resume’ on the eating front post the Jan 1 diet mania.

There’s been a lot of talk about no carb diets yet again, as a means of losing weight quickly. But the question is, is the extreme low carb, or no carb diet as beneficial as your monthly fashion mag would have you believe?  The moment you say ‘No’ in a sentence the defiant me wants it desperately.  The truth is ‘No’ can have a terrible effect on your health.

The way these diets work is by inducing a state of ketosis, meaning that once the body runs out of carbohydrates, or sugar, to burn for energy, it turns to the body’s fat stores instead, causing you to lose weight.

When done right, this is a highly effective way to lose body fat, and is used by many athletes who up their fat intake in order to stay lean (as weird as that may sound) and train on a slower release form of energy which is what happens when you take calories from fat.

The problem arises when you don’t replace your carbs with something else as effective to give you the right kind of energy, so doing this without the right research is not a good idea.  In fact it can be seriously detrimental to your health for a number of reasons.  The fact is, the body needs glycogen, which is found naturally in the liver and muscles, to function properly.  Carbohydrates are the best source of this.

When you completely remove carbs from your diet, you not only reduce the amount of energy available to your body, affecting its ability to carry out natural processes; but you also starve your organs of glycogen, which leads to dehydration as glycogen stores up to four times its weight in water.

So in a no carb diet your water reserves in the body are the first to go – remember we are approximately 65% water.  You lose the water and you drop the weight, which leads you to believe your efforts are working and therefore you continue.  However, you can’t sustain this forever, as the water in your organs is very important.  Some other side effects of these dangerous no carb diets are digestive issues due to a lack of fibre in the diet, muscle wastage, nausea and light headedness, and a weakened immune system, amongst others.

The trick is to use efficient carbs.  A healthier option would be to recognise the difference between simple and complex carbs, and apply that understanding to your diet.  Whilst white potatoes, pasta and bread are high in sugar and lower in nutritional value, complex carbs such as wholegrains and sweet potato are a great source of slow release energy and full of nutrients.

Adding a portion of complex carbohydrates into your daily diet ensures that your body is receiving enough healthy sugars to maintain the amount of glycogen needed to carry out natural bodily functions, without having more than it needs and turning to weight gain.  It is possible to have a healthy amount of carbs in your diet and still lose weight.

My general motto these days is…. “Everything is healthy in moderation”.  Instead of cutting something out entirely, it’s important to find balance.  You’ll also find that by not depriving yourself entirely of one food group, you’ll be less likely to crash and burn, or end up relapsing and having a carb “binge”.

If you’re stuck on ideas for healthy meals that still contain carbs, check out our recent blog posts.  We have a great recipe for a healthy salmon, avocado and artichoke salad that contains leftover pieces of sweet potato, and another recipe for sweet potato wedges that is a firm favourite in this household.


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