Clients often ask us when to eat carbohydrates and what types of carbohydrates are best. At Bauwave, our answer is simple – “You can eat them when you have earned them!” and “Anything that grows above the ground”. It is our philosophy that consuming grains should be limited to no more than twice per week and in small quantities, and only by athletes, people participating in endurance based sports and those who want to add to their muscle mass. The average person looking to lower their body fat percentage should follow some simple rules when it comes to grains:
- Avoid grain products such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal.
- Avoid starchy, below-ground vegetables such as potatoes.
- Do get your carbohydrates from a wide variety of vegetables, legumes, and seeds!
In our experience, clients who follow these three steps produce exceptional results in terms of reducing body fat and keeping weight off in the long term. However, to avoid oversimplification, this article will examine the pros and cons of a low-carb diet and how to balance carbohydrate intake.
The Pros of a Low-Carb Diet
Diets lower in carbohydrates from grain sources result in an individual consuming fewer calories, as low glycemic complex carbohydrate diets can reduce food cravings and hunger. Carbohydrates are easier for your body to convert to sugars, which have been shown to actually stimulate your appetite. The appetite centers in our brain are activated by the consumption of sweet, sugary foods, which can easily lead to overeating. By choosing vegetables and foods with a lower glycemic load blood sugar instability will be avoided and the consumption of excess calories greatly reduced.
Consuming fewer grains also reduces the risk of developing diabetes, especially when the nutrition plan is focused on the consumption of plant-based carbohydrates. These include all vegetables (be careful of potatoes and sweet potatoes), blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, bananas, and other fruits. The rate of digestion and the amount of fiber in ones diet, regulate insulin and blood sugar. Plant-based carbohydrates contain two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble slows down the movement of foods through the digestive system whereas insoluble speeds it up. Consuming adequate amounts of insoluble fiber helps regulate cholesterol, blood sugar, and bowel movements.
A diet that is lower in grains and higher in vegetables has the additional health benefit of reducing blood pressure because it can lead to improved body composition and insulin sensitivity. Such diets are also beneficial for general cardiovascular health as this type of diet reduces levels of triglycerides, bad cholesterol, and inflammation.
Finally, a protein based diet will help you lose fat and maintain muscle. Protein requires the most calories to burn, ahead of carbohydrates, and fat. Protein is not only satisfying but it is essential to preserving muscle mass. This in turn increases your metabolic rate because the amount of calories one’s body burns at rest is directly proportional to the amount of lean muscle a person carries on their frame.
Disadvantages of a Low-Carb Diet
Following a low-carbohydrate diet for a prolonged period of time has been shown to potentially lead to a wide variety of ailments. This is especially true for those who exercise regularly. Some of the effects of prolonged low-carbohydrate dieting can include decreased thyroid output, due to the way in which such diets negatively affect the hormone T3. Low T3 levels have been found to put individuals at risk of developing euthyroid sick syndrome, the symptoms of which include lethargy and chills. (Precision Nurition, The Vermont Study).
Long-term low-carbohydrate diets can also increase cortisol output. When an individual consumes carbohydrates, their insulin levels rise, which in turn cause a reduction in cortisol levels. This is coupled with a decrease in testosterone and other anabolic hormones.
Furthermore, low-carb diets can cause hormone imbalances in women which may lead to an irregular menstrual cycle, a loss of bone density, hypoglycemia, lowered fertility, and chronic inflammation, among other issues.
Low-carbohydrate diets can also lead to a breakdown of muscle tissue in the body because of lowered insulin levels. When an individual takes in an appropriate amount of carbohydrates, glycogen levels are replenished and an anabolic hormonal environment is created. This is ideal for building lean muscle and banishing body fat.
Tips for Properly Consuming Carbohydrates
The best way for individuals to responsibly consume carbohydrates is to first and foremost, reduce all processed and refined carbohydrates with an end goal of eliminating them completely. This includes pasta, cereals, cookies, and crackers, among others. If you must consume grains, look for slow-cook varieties and closely monitor portion size and ensure that it is proportional to the amount of physical activity you engage in.
Read about the glycemic index of various fruits and vegetables and eat a variety of low, medium, and high GI foods depending on your level of energy output and your goals. Do not forget to consume fresh, organic vegetables at a minimum of two meals per day and use fresh or dried fruit to satisfy strong cravings for sweets.
The most important piece of advice when it comes to carbohydrates is to base your intake on the amount of physical activity you engage in on a regular basis. Like we said – the best time to consume carbohydrates is when you deserve them! The needs of sedentary individuals for carbohydrate rich foods are much lower than for those who exercise regularly.
If you are serious about lowering your body fat percentage and are not an endurance athlete, avoid grains and avoid below-ground vegetables like potatoes. You don’t need them! Choose non-starchy, plant-based sources of carbohydrates and you will look and feel your best.