Disclaimer: As I am not yet a dietitian nor a nutritionist I cannot advise anyone on whether or not to try eating low-carb. However, it makes sense to me that because everyone is different low-carb is probably not for everyone. Please make informed decisions with the help of your healthcare providers.
What is low-carb?
Low-carb eating is pretty straight forward in theory. Someone eating low-carb means they are eating fewer than the “normal” amount of carbohydrates. However, beyond that, what constitutes the borders of low-carb, or the different levels of low-carb, is less easy to define. So for sake of this website I’ll use the following ranges from Mark’s Daily Apple: moderate-low at 100-150 grams, low at 100 grams or less, lower at 50-80 grams, very-low at 0-50.
It’s my understanding that most Americans eat well above 100 grams, even hitting several hundred in a day. This is not a bad thing if your lifestyle allows for it. For example it’s probably fine if you are active enough to use them as fuel instead of them getting stored as excess fat, provided there are no other confounding health factors. However, for some people it’s not ideal – especially if you lead a lifestyle that doesn’t require lots of carbohydrates(think desk job and minimal physical activity at home) or you have a health condition that is aggravated by too many carbohydrates(think pre-diabetes or hypoglycemia). For more details about the different ranges of carbohydrates please read through Mark Sisson’s Carbohydrate Curve post. One final note on the carbo-curve – not everyone will experience “insidious weight gain above 150 grams of carbohydrates”. Everyone is a unique flower so let’s accept that and not judge.
Pros and Cons
Before we take a quick look at the pros and cons of “low-carbing” let me say that as with any dietary change, eating a low-carb diet isn’t a panacea. And at the risk of sounding redundant, there are no one-size-fits-all diets – not vegan, not paleo, not intuitive eating, not anything.
With that said, low-carb can be great for fat loss, blood sugar regulation and even PCOS as Chris Kresser discusses in his post, 7 Things Everyone Should Know About Low-Carb Diets. Being the balanced integrative healthcare practitioner that he is, he does go on to address some issues with very low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets, such as a change in one’s gut microbiota. For those of you who don’t know what the “gut microbiota” or “gut microbiome” are, they are defined as “the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut; the human microbiome consists of the genes these cells harbor”(1)(2). We still do not fully understand the implications of the effects of said ‘biota and ‘biome and as such changes that can result from certain lifestyle decisions should be carefully considered. However, this does not mean that low-carb isn’t the best option for a particular situation. As with all health choices, it should be considered from all angles. Sometimes even the best choice will have “side effects”.
For more discussion on what one might need to consider before embarking on a low-carb life-style check out two other posts from Chris Kresser’s site written by Laura Schoenfeld RD, When Should You Try A Low Carb Diet? and Is A Low-Carb Diet Ruining Your Health? The first article covers the different situations that may benefit from a low-carb diet, including neurological disorders, mood disturbances, SIBO, and GERD, as well as those mentioned in the paragraph above. The second speaks to the other side of low-carb, the very real possibility that there are some people and/or conditions that might be hindered by too low intake of carbohydrate such as: pregnant women, athletes, or those with HPA axis disregulation. Of course if you are considering any such change, you should consult with your primary healthcare practitioner.
1. Ursell LK, Metcalf JL; Wegener Parfrey L. 2012 Aug. Defining the Human Microbiome. PMC US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00493.x. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/
2. Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Hamady M, Fraser-Ligget Claire, Knight R, Gordon JI. The human microbiome project: exploring the microbial part of ourselves in a changing world. MC US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Nature. 2007 Oct 18; 449(7164): 804–810. doi: 10.1038/nature06244. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709439/