What are carbohydrates? Are all carbs the same? Why should we watch how much of them we eat?
How does it work?
Eating too many carbs – especially sugar, white flour, and other refined carbs – can lead to blood sugar imbalances as well as other health problems. Low-carb diets, such as Atkins, help your body’s metabolism switch to the process of burning excess body fat for energy – instead of burning the glycogen that comes from carbs.
Carbs, when consumed, are converted into glucose that stays in your blood to provide a quick energy supply. They can also be stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen to be used for energy when you need it later. The carbs that you don’t need – and that can’t be stored in the liver – are converted into fat. This means your body will continue to burn the glycogen from carbs you eat and body fat stores won’t be tapped into. In fact, a high carb diet shuts down the fat burning process. Unfortunately, since a modern UK diet tends to be rich in carbs, your body doesn’t usually tap into its fat stores for energy because it’s constantly being fuelled by more carbs.
What’s worse, since carbs are easily digested, they do little to stop those pesky hunger pangs. This means that shortly after a carb-rich meal, hunger rears its head again. In contrast, fats and protein take much longer to digest, leading to fewer snack cravings. Reducing your intake of ‘bad’ carbs also means that your blood sugar levels stay stable, helping you avoid constant spikes and dips in your energy levels. Steadier blood sugar levels mean that your body produces less insulin – known as the fat storage hormone – which in turn means fewer hunger pangs.
Most low fat or calorie-restricted diets have only short-term benefits and are hard to maintain since it’s naturally difficult to keep up with a diet that leaves you feeling hungry all the time.
With the Atkins diet plan, however, you start by reducing carbs while emphasising protein and fats. At the same time, you take in a lot of healthy complex carbs from vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. You then gradually add ‘good’ carbs back into your diet towards the maintenance phase of the diet plan, when you are within reach of your weight-wellness goals.
When done right, reducing your carb intake is a well-established and successful lifelong approach to healthy eating, but it’s also been proved to be beneficial for many medical conditions, such as diabetes, PCOS, and epilepsy. Of course, anyone with a serious existing medical condition should consult a health expert before making any major changes to their diet.
The history of low carb
Low carb diets may be making headlines now, but they have long been relied upon for their weight-loss and health benefits.
William Banting was an obese British undertaker in the Victorian era, who for 20 years had approached leading specialists of the time for weight-loss support. Eventually, an ear specialist proposed a radical eating plan to Banting that would drastically limit his intake of carbohydrates, especially those of a starchy or sugary nature like bread, potatoes, butter, milk, and sugar, all of which were dietary staples at the time. The diet helped Banting to lose a remarkable amount of weight, and relieve him of the ailments and infirmities he suffered due to obesity.
Upon self-reflection, Banting decided to write and publish an open letter to the public titled "Letter on Corpulence", which became widely distributed.