Watching Your Carbohydrate Intake? Calories Still Count

The Low Carb Craze

Trendy in the dieting world currently means low carbohydrate. You can’t walk the aisles of a grocery store, turn on the television, or pick up a magazine without seeing something about carbs. The best-selling diets out now, some of which include theAtkins Diet, The South Beach Diet, and The Zone, exclude carbs almost entirely or limit certain types of carbs. And, more and more restaurants and fast food chains are now offering carb-conscious menus.

Atkins vs. The South Beach Diet vs. The Zone

Atkins Diet

  • Almost no carbs allowed (including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
  • No calorie or fat restrictions (diet contains almost three times the recommended saturated fat)
  • Overall, the diet lacks many nutrients including vitamins C, D, and E; thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc
  • Diet contains very little fiber

The South Beach Diet

  • Some carbs that are high in fiber are allowed
  • Restricts saturated fats: no butter, bacon or fried foods

The Zone

  • Each meal or snack has to be split up as follows: 40% carb, 30% protein and 30% unsaturated fat
  • Carbohydrates have to be combined with proteins in certain amounts in order to stabilize blood sugar

The Low-Carb Diet Lowdown

Limited studies have shown that following a carb-restricted diet, like the above, will produce weight loss; however, there are no long-term studies yet available that show how safe or effective these diets can be long-term. Many health and nutrition experts question the nutritional quality and one’s ability to follow these diets after an extended period of time.

Most people will lose weight initially on too-restrictive diets, but after they begin to incorporate some of the foods they have been avoiding, they tend to gain the weight (plus more sometimes) back. A more sensible approach that moderately limits (not excludes) carbs increases your chances of getting all your nutrients and keeping the weight you lose off for good!

Not All Carbohydrates Are Created Equal

Carbs have gotten a bad wrap, but the bottom line is that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates are found in most foods, with the exception of meats, fats, and oils. That’s why it can be hard to follow such an extremely low-carb diet. However, a more moderate carb diet that consists of whole grains instead of refined grains is a safe and effective way to lose weight and get all the nutrition you need. If you’ve decided to watch your carb intake, you should know the difference between refined (“bad”) and unrefined (“good”) carbohydrates.

Refined (simple carbs, processed)

  • Get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, causing an almost immediate spike in the blood sugar and insulin production which can make you hungry
  • Contain few vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals
  • Contain little to no fiber
  • Generally found in white rice, bread, and pasta; certain cereals, and sugary foods like candy

Unrefined (whole grains, complex carbs, unprocessed)

  • Unlike refined or simple carbs, whole grains need to be broken down before they can be absorbed. This breaking down process avoids a spike in your blood sugar and insulin production
  • Contain many nutrients that have been shown to be protective against chronic diseases like cancer
  • Good source of fiber
  • Generally found in fruit and vegetables, oatmeal, whole-grain cereal, whole-grain bread and any whole grains, such as brown rice, couscous and bulgur
faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.