Do you need a low carb diet?
Are carbs bad? Or good? Do you need a low carb diet, like Paleo, Atkins, or Keto? A low carb diet may be right for you, but the most informed decision comes from knowing what carbs are.
Knowing how different types of carbs affect your blood sugar, how you feel, and your long term health helps you feel great and work better. Here's a quick primer on carbs for entrepreneurs!
Check your baseline health habits before starting a low carb diet
Carbs are macros
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrient groups, "macros," that we eat in large amounts for energy. The others are fats and proteins. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are an often misunderstood macro important to most healthy diets.
Carbohydrates are named by their arrangement of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The different shapes have different uses in the body. Many know sugar is a carb, but did you know starch and fiber are too?
Simple vs complex carbs
Carbohydrates are labeled simple or complex depending on their chemical structure. Simple carbs are naturally in fruits, veggies, and milk, and have one or two sugar molecules. Glucose and fructose are examples of simple sugars, as well as their combination in refined sugar- sucrose.
Nutrient-dense foods like produce are beneficial sources of simple sugars. However, added sugars found in sweetened drinks, desserts, and candy are associated with obesity and increase heart disease and cancer risk.
Read more: Healthline: What are Simple Sugars? Simple Carbohydrates Explained
Complex carbs, found in whole grain foods, non-starchy vegetables like cucumbers and broccoli, starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, and butternut squash, and fruit, have three or more sugar molecules.
Most sources of complex carbs are good sources of fiber and have low to medium glycemic indices, making them part of a balanced diet.
What is glycemic index?
A food's glycemic index is a measure of how quickly it increases blood sugar. Ted-ED How Do Carbohydrates Impact Your Health? gives a wonderful explanation:
This video shows that foods higher in starch or simple sugar have higher glycemic indices, which rapidly increase the amount of sugar in the blood. The body uses insulin to absorb sugar into cells. Consistently high blood sugar can cause cell insulin resistance, which leads to prediabetes in 1 in 3 US adults, and sometimes diabetes.
Diabetes occurs when the body can't process the sugar in the blood. Patients with diabetes face dietary restrictions and daily medications for treatment. Untreated diabetes can lead to cardiovascular disease and damaged nerves, kidneys, eyes, and feet.
Lower glycemic index foods, especially those higher in fiber, or low in sugar, do not increase blood sugar as rapidly as high glycemic index foods. Eating healthy sources of carbohydrates in a balanced diet can reduce your risk of diabetes.
Read more: World Diabetes Day- 5 Ways to Reduce Your Risk
I hope this post gives you a better understanding of how your food affects your body, work, and quality of life. And just maybe, the right lifestyle diet for you has more carbs than you thought!
3 tips for carbs:
1) Eat at least half of all grains as whole grains.
2) Eat more fruits and veggies for fiber- Aim for 5+ servings per day. The National Institutes of Health recommend 21-38 grams of fiber per day; the average American eats 16 grams/day.
3) Choose water over soda, sports drinks, or juice
For more information, visit Harvard School of Public Health's carbohydrates page. Food record apps like myfitnesspal help you track your macronutrient and carbohydrate intake. As always, I recommend talking with your doctor and a dietitian to maximize results with any new diet.