Low carb in the simplest terms means low carbohydrates. But just what are carbohydrates, are all carbohydrates the same and in any case why should we worry how many of them we eat?
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the term Banting suddenly took off. The reason? An obese English undertaker had hit upon something. Perhaps both his suit size and profession gave him reason to reflect on his own mortality, whatever the motivation he decided to write a warning to the public. He wrote of the need to start following a diet that cut out bread, potato, beer, butter, milk and sugar – the staples of the day. He was advocating cutting out carbs.
Back then, had he written cut out the carbs, almost nobody would have known what he meant. Now we would all know it means something has to be whittled out of the diet but what exactly? Does it mean cutting out puddings, not having meat or having the same few things over and over ad infinitum? Well, in short, no.
The modern meaning of low carb, is low net carbs, or foods that are low in carbohydrates once their fibre and sugar alcohol content is taken into consideration. And if that sounds like it's making things even more complex, here's what it means. Most meat, shellfish and fish is very low in carb and high in fibre, the net carb intake of such foods is virtually, or often exactly, zero. Vegetables tend to be low in carbs, especially salad vegetables, while even full fat dairy products are low in net carbs. Low fat dairy products are normally far higher in net carbs, a discovery many find to be counter intuitive, that the full fat option can be better than the reduced fat alternative.
That, though, is the case. The reason is not that carbs are terrible of themselves. However, a sophisticated low carb diet such as Atkins turns your body from a carb-burning machine to a fat-burning one. With a carb-high diet – and that's pretty much any typical western diet or meal plan – your body has all the fuel it needs while barely touching the layers of fat. Worse still, because carbs are easily digested, they do little to quell pangs of hunger – shortly after a full carb-rich meal the diner is hungry again. However, fats and protein take much longer to digest leading to far less snacking. We have more on the science behind low carbs on the site – including a look at the increasing number of tests that highlight the benefits of carb reduction.
The term low carbs can however be a slight misnomer. Most diets require sacrifices which are then kept to, and there is a constant danger that lapsing will start a process that sees the good work undone. With a modern low carb diet however there is an initial stage that requires a heavy carb reduction after which their intake increases as the dieter moves towards a diet for life. Depending on the individual's metabolism and how they react to incremental additions of carbohydrate it is possible they will end with a carb intake broadly in keeping with an unchecked diet. They will though be safe in the knowledge that they have found the ideal balance to maintain their desired weight.
Reducing carbs is also proven to be beneficial for many medical conditions, including diabetes while the Atkins diet has been shown to benefit some cancer and epilepsy sufferers by independent research. Of course, anyone with a serious medical condition should first consult a health expert before making any major changes to their diet.
So low carb is in one sense very simple to understand – food with that great low net carbohydrate rate. On this site you can find lists of foods that meet that criteria along with some great recipes. What it leads to is weight reduction and an easy-to-follow plan for a better life. Have a look around the site to find out more.