Since the dawn of Atkins, it seems that low carb is the way to go. Numerous diets focus on some variety of low carbohydrate eating, whether it be no fruit, bread, pasta, etc. or you can only eat meat and cheese for 2 weeks straight (or the rest of your life)! What’s the big hype and is it worth it?

Why do low carb diets work initially?

Carbohydrates are essential to our existence. Therefore, our body has a way of holding onto carbohydrates for future use such as fasting (think 8 hours of sleep or even 6 hours between meals), sprinting to catch the bus, or food availability (who only has cheese and meat at a party?).

When we suddenly drop our carbohydrate intake, our liver starts producing energy from stored carbohydrates. After using all of the stored carbohydrates, the body has to make energy from other resources including amino acids from protein stores (your muscle) and lipids (your fat).  Under long term carbohydrate starvation, our kidneys become involved. This is why a long-term carbohydrate free diet can be detrimental to the kidneys and overall health.  This new energy process is quite opposite of what the body is used to, so it is common to feel a drop in energy as your body switches gears. Symptoms can also include nausea, fatigue, fullness, and irritability just to name a few. Carbohydrates also influence the production of serotonin, your brains happy chemical, so dropping your carbs can be quite a mood-killer. Over time, a low carbohydrate diet may actually lead to nutrition deficiencies. Foods that naturally contain carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, contain essential vitamins and minerals. Although supplements may help to counteract these deficiency symptoms, many beneficial factors found in these foods, such as flavonoids, cannot be reproduced or possibly still remain undiscovered.

So why do we lose weight so fast in the beginning?

Each gram of glycogen (carbohydrates stored in your liver) carries with it about 3-4 grams of water. So most of that quick weight loss is water, and can even include some very valuable muscle! The make matters worse, as soon as you start adding those carbs back, so returns the water weight, big bummer.

Better Idea? Chew on this.

As a society, we consume refined or natural sugar in one form or another in most of our foods. In most foods, these are added. Although sweeteners may be labeled as “natural”, they are still added to improve the taste or texture of the product. According to the USDA, in 2014 we consumed 11.9 tsp of refined sugar daily, which is an extra 190 calories per day. On top of this, we consume an additional 127 calories per day from high fructose corn syrup, and 48 additional calories from “Other Sweeteners”. Although, an additional 365 calories per day does not seem like much, that a potential 38 pounds of body fat per person per year, just from refined sugar.

Instead of going on a diet, which usually comes to an end, start by cutting out foods with added sugars. Breads and cereals (even organic) are notorious for sneaking in sugar.  Instead of breads, use lettuce to wrap up sandwich meats. Enjoy berries with full-fat Greek yogurt instead of sweetened yogurt. Start reading food ingredient labels to find out where the sugar is hiding. Reading food labels themselves can be rather confusing, but if you skim the ingredients for things like “organic cane sugar”, “beet sugar”, “agave syrup”, “maltodextrin”, “natural sweeteners” or others, you can quickly become knowledgeable about where these little goal busters are hiding. The easiest way to cut added sugar out of your diet? Start with whole foods first. Natural sugars such as those found in whole fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and organic dairy products are less likely to pose a risk to your waste line, as they often come loaded with fiber and other essential nutrients. Yes, this approach will likely not have your losing 15 pounds in your first week, but it will be much easier on your body and mind, and it will change the way you eat for the rest of your life.

Tracey, Zoi Health Coach, RDN

Image includes turkey, pastrami, and swiss cheese lettuce cups with a tomato goat cheese pesto salad.