Going Low Carb: Good or Bad?

Many dieters revert back to the "low-carb” Atkins or South Beach plans to lose weight. Certain carbohydrate-rich foods are vital to your good health. Find out if you’re eating the right kinds.

Dieters sometimes fall back on the "low-carb" plans to lose weight easily, but cutting carbs altogether isn't wise. Certain carbohydrate-rich foods are vital to your good health. Find out if you’re eating the right kinds.

Which Foods Have Carbs?

Healthy carbohydrate-rich foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Foods such as dairy and legumes (beans, peas and lentils) are a combo of protein and carbs. Also on the carbohydrate list are foods that contain few healthy nutrients such refined sugar and white flour.

Carbohydrates provide your body with immediate energy for everything from eye blinks to exercise. As mentioned in a previous post on pasta, only carbohydrates provide your brain with energy. If they aren’t available, the body will convert other nutrients (like fat) into carbs for energy. This process actually wastes energy and takes longer, which can lead to fatigue and a slower metabolism (yes, you’ll be slowing your body down!). Carbohydrate needs are specific to the individual, but everyone needs some in their diet.

Low-Carb Diets

Most low carb diets cut out all sugar and refined starches (such as white flour), which can have a positive impact on health. But they also cut down or wipe out fruit and whole grains – both are full of fiber and vitamins (A and C in fruit and B vitamins in grains) that your body must have to perform properly.

If weight loss does occur, it’s not because carbs were off-limits; it’s because calories were drastically reduced. Dieters are suddenly “not allowed” to eat so many foods that calories become scarce. There is no magical formula -- despite what you hear in those infomercials. Calorie reduction is the only way to lose weight.

Many dieters manage to lose weight on a low-carb diet, but a plan that banishes numerous foods and slashes carbohydrates is unsustainable (and so is the weight loss). Since low-carb diets are also tremendously high in saturated fat and protein, dieters are at risk for cardiovascular and kidney problems as well.

Low-Carb Foods

You could fill an entire grocery store with nothing but low-carb versions of ordinarily carb-filled foods such as bread, ice cream, cereal, snacks and candies. Check the labels on these foods -- they are edible chemistry experiments. A 2004 New York Times article explains some of the scary ingredients lurking in these foods and why dieters don't have a free pass to munch.

Foods that are naturally low in carbohydrates such as vegetables, cheese, nuts and seeds are good for you and give your body what it needs when they're eaten in moderation with fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein.

Bottom Line: If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your energy levels and metabolism will pay the price. The amount of carbohydrates in a low-carb diet is not one-size-fits-all but no one should go without!

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