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Last Updated on February 24, 2021

How Does a Low Carb Diet Work for Health and Weight Loss?

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How Does a Low Carb Diet Work for Health and Weight Loss?

Going on a low carb diet is something almost everyone has either tried, considered, or heard about. However, low carb diets may mean many different things to different people. The old-style low carb dieting meant you ate butter and bacon all day. Most of us know that’s not the quickest ticket to good health, despite that the well-known approach might help you drop weight in the short term.

Thankfully, low carb diets have meant something much different these days. Low carb diets are now usually much healthier and help you eliminate the most harmful carbs from your plate: refined (processed) grains, all added and refined sugars, fast food, and junk food. Most also limit how many starchy foods they eat and mostly avoid foods like potatoes or corn.

Here’s how lowering your carbohydrate intake can help you achieve your health and weight goals and whether you should give it a try.

Why Try a Low Carb Diet

There are many reasons why one might adopt a low carb diet. I have actually lived on a low carb diet for the last 10 years. In that time, it has helped me overcome two serious medical conditions: chronic acne and food addiction. Here’s my experience with a low carb diet:

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  • I don’t count grams per day like some diet advice suggests.
  • I don’t eat bacon and butter (or even meat).
  • I eat well-balanced meals rich in clean protein, ample amounts of greens, and any veggies I want.
  • I always include some healthy fats in my day.
  • I enjoy produce sources of carbs like berries, green apples, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkin.
  • Fermented foods are also a daily part of my routine for optimal gut health and mood function.
  • I eat most of my fermented foods in the forms of kimchi, sauerkraut, plain (non-fat) Greek yogurt, coconut kefir, and 100% dark chocolate (yes, it’s a probiotic-rich food!).

What about whole grains and nuts? Generally, I even eat whole, gluten-free grains such as oats and wild rice if my body tells me it desires or needs them.

This style of eating can help you learn to crave healthier foods and realize just how much better your body feels on real food versus sugar and flour any day. You’ll also find your blood sugar levels are more stable, and your overall focus at work may improve.

How a Low Carb Diet Can Help You Achieve Better Health and Lose Weight

Lower Blood Sugar

A low carb diet can reduce the amount of sugar in your bloodstream, because carbs break down into simple sugars, which turns into blood glucose for your metabolism. Less carbs means less sugars, which is more beneficial for your heart health and waistline.

Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in produce, lean sources of protein, and heart-healthy sources of fats (in moderation) can prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes[1].

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It can also reduce insulin swings throughout the day due to better blood sugar levels—but don’t cut carbs too much or you may feel lightheaded and dizzy.

Weight Loss

It can help you drop weight either temporarily, through water weight when glycogen levels are depleted due to a reduction of carbs, or long-term, when the body starts to burn its own fat as fuel.

Setting Yourself up for Success on a Low Carb Diet

When you decide to start a low carb diet, it’s important to remember that you should cut carbs over a span of at least a few days. If you cut carbs back too much (from produce, especially), you may experience side effects that mimic flu-like symptoms, which will immediately turn you off to your new diet. It’s better to take things slow and work on cutting out the added sugars, refined grains, and all processed food and fast food before you go worrying about the carbs in berries and vegetables.

When you’re not eating many carbs, it’s important to consider where your calories are coming from. You’ll naturally be eating more protein and fats, so it’s important not to go overboard on either as this can also lead to weight gain and poor health over time.

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From the moment you start, make sure you’re getting enough water. You may have increased levels of thirst as your body begins to eliminate sodium and water via the kidneys. Drinking enough water as the body adjusts is essential.

Focus on produce, lean protein, and small amounts of  healthy fats at each meal. Even if you’re vegetarian or vegan, this is simple enough to do. What about whole grains, you may be asking? Moderate-style low carbohydrate diets can include small amounts of whole grains throughout the day if your body tolerates them well.

Some whole grains (especially steel-cut or rolled oats, wild rice, and quinoa) all have many health benefits that you can take advantage of if your body tolerates them. They are also excellent for lowering blood pressure levels and are rich in heart-healthy magnesium, potassium, and are good sources of iron.

However, try to eat moderate portions (1/4 – 1/3 cup) once a day instead of relying on them at all of your meals.

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If you aren’t sure where to start with your low-carb diet, check out these great low-carb foods and these low-carb recipes.

Supplement Tips

Don’t rely on diet bars, processed low-carb shakes, and pricey supplements. Get yourself a good multivitamin from a quality brand, a Vitamin D3 supplement and a probiotic to support your gut health. Take these daily, and if you have issues with constipation or irregularity, eat more vegetables and add some chia or flax seeds to your routine (which you should be eating anyway since they’re great sources of fats and fiber!).

The Bottom Line

When you decide to take the leap and get started, optimize real foods, kick the sugar and refined foods, and you’ll be on your way to a naturally healthy, low carb diet in no time. Soon, you’ll feel healthier, lighter, and more energetic.

More Tips for a Low Carb Diet

Featured photo credit: Brooke Lark via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Published on August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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Reference

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