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Low carb diet – dangerous or reasonable?

March 2, 2020
  • Nutrition
Low carb diet – dangerous or reasonable?

Whether as a diet to lose a few kilos or as a long-term nutritional concept, everyone is talking about low carb. However, the approach requires that people take a close look at their diet in order to avoid negative effects on their health. That is why a low-carbohydrate lifestyle is probably not suitable for everyone.

A healthy middle balance is the reduction of carbohydrate intake during the course of the day. This way, you start the day with a power breakfast of complex carbohydrates and fibre and reduce the carbohydrates with each following meal. In the end, the dinner should hardly include any carbohydrates.

Before you start your low carb diet, there are a few things you should know:

What is low carb?

Low carb is a nutritional concept in which the carbohydrate content in the daily diet is reduced.

While for a balanced diet about 50% of the energy is taken in via carbohydrates, this value is usually between 10 and 40% in a low carb diet. Instead of carbohydrates, fat is preferred as a source of energy.

Low carb is often used as a dietary form to lose unloved fat pads. However, for some people cutting back on carbohydrates is their long-term dietary plan.

Some of the most radical low carb concepts include the Atkins diet or the ketogenic diet. Only 20-60 g of carbohydrates are eaten daily. With a daily calorie requirement of 2000 kcal, this is a carbohydrate content of 4-12%.

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So, you can imagine it better: One slice of wholemeal bread (50 g) has about 20 g of carbohydrates.

Why even avoid carbohydrates?

A low-carbohydrate diet helps to keep the blood sugar level constant. If you avoid carbohydrates and instead eat a protein and fat rich diet, you will stay full longer. In addition, a low carb diet also results in fewer ravenous attacks.

It is also assumed that the body builds up fewer fat reserves when the carbohydrate intake is reduced. Because when the carbohydrate storage is full, the body stores the excess energy in the form of fat.

The same applies vice versa: If the body needs energy, but the carbohydrate stores are empty due to the low-carbohydrate diet, the body falls back on its fat reserves.

Therefore, as a dietary concept, low carb sounds promising.

Do we need carbs?

In short, carbohydrates are sugar molecules which are considered as important building materials for our cells. Most of the energy through carbohydrates is used for vital body functions. These include breathing or the heartbeat. Most of the energy is used for brain activity.

Nevertheless, we could theoretically live completely without carbohydrates. Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates are not essential. They are the only macronutrient that the body can obtain from protein itself. This means that carbohydrates do not have to be taken in with food like fat and protein.

Is low carb dangerous?

A radical reduction of carbohydrates also has its disadvantages:

Carbohydrates as important fibre suppliers

Carbohydrates contain important fibre and vitamins that our body needs to stay healthy. To avoid carbohydrates completely in the long term is therefore not a good idea. Instead, it is recommended to cover about 40-50% of the daily energy requirement with carbohydrates. Use complex carbohydrates to provide your body with sufficient fibre and vitamins.

A good choice for example are oat flakes or wholemeal products. Legumes should not be missing from your diet either, as they also contain a lot of fibre and micronutrients such as vitamins.

Low carb means high fat

In a balanced diet, carbohydrates serve as the main source of energy for the body. This means that due to the drastic reduction of low carbs, you can quickly feel a lack of energy, especially at the beginning of the diet change.

This is where the fat comes in. To prevent energy loss, you should increase the fat content to 50-60% in a low carb diet. After all, fat is the second largest supplier of energy for our body besides carbohydrates. As a comparison: The recommended fat percentage for a balanced diet is 30%.

However, care must be taken with the increased fat intake. If you frequently take in animal fats, this has a negative long-term effect on your health. Your blood lipid level rises, and at the same time the risk of heart and circulation diseases such as heart attack and stroke increases.

Whoever decides on a low carb diet should therefore pay more attention to choosing healthy fats. They are found in linseeds, nuts, chia seeds, avocado or olive oil, for example. On the other hand, butter, sausages or palm oil should be avoided.

In a low carb diet, use healthy fats, such as avocados, as energy suppliers.

The healthy balance: Low(er) carb

It can make sense to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet if you want to lose a few kilos.

It is important to cover the lower carbohydrate content with complex carbohydrates. Only then will you benefit from the advantages of the low carb diet.

A popular variation of the low(er) carb diet is for example the omission of carbohydrates in the evening. This allows your body to gain energy from food during the day and draw on its fat reserves at night.

So, start the day full of energy in the morning and supply your body with healthy carbohydrates that will keep you full for a long time. In the course of the day you reduce your carbohydrate intake and leave it out completely in the evening.

With this strategy you can easily achieve a carbohydrate content of less than 50%, but you do not have to do without the energy of carbohydrates. 

Carbohydrates as energy suppliers in the morning: Porridge is perfect to start the day with healthy carbohydrates.

Which carbohydrates are allowed during a low carb diet?

In the following table you can see which carbohydrates you can eat in moderation in a low carb diet and which you should eliminate from your diet. Many of the recommended carbohydrate sources also contain healthy fat and protein. This way you are well prepared for your low carb diet.

Allowed carbohydratesOccasionally allowed carbohydratesNot allowed carbohydrates
Oat flakes PotatoesWhite bread
MilletSweet potatoesPasta
BuckwheatWhole grain breadCake
Nuts, seeds Bulgur, couscousSweets
Berries (raspberries, blueberries), grapefruitBananas, apples, grapesFruit yoghurt
Lettuce, spinachOranges, mango, pineappleGlucose
Tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, broccoliDried fruits, dates Snacks (chips, crackers)
Cabbage vegetablesCarrotsLong grain rice
Milk, milk alternatives
Quark, yoghurt alternatives
Feta, goat cheese, mozzarella

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