Saying that the carbohydrate debate is “a controversy” doesn’t adequately describe the raging argument
going on within scientific and clinical nutrition circles about the ‘right’ amount of carbohydrate for nutritious and yet safe diet, especially for weight loss. There are proponents at each end of the carbohydrate spectrum, from those eschewing almost any form of carbohydrate, to those who believe carbohydrates should be the most prevalent energy source.
The ultra-low-carb camp rejects grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. The high carbohydrate proponents believe that fuel from carbohydrates should make up at least half of your calories. Both groups approach their work with almost religious fervour, requiring your allegiance to one extreme or the other. Is there a middle road?
What does science say?
Just breathe…..if you want to try out low carb eating you can probably eat more carbohydrate than you thought. Let’s look at what ‘low carb’ actually means as far as nutrition science is concerned.
Many low carb meal plans contain less than 50g of carbohydrates a day. That’s actually classified by nutritional science as a ‘very low carbohydrate’ diet. ‘Low carb’ means between 50g and 130g of carbohydrate each day, rather more. (I’ve listed a couple of the peer-reviewed papers at the end of this article if you want to review the data.)
In 2011 researchers at the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition crunched the numbers: They found that ‘low carb’ means 30-130g carbohydrates per day. In 2014 Michael Liebman from the University of Wyoming found that “there is much experimental support for the consumption of a moderately restricted carbohydrate diet (i.e one providing approximately 26-44% of calories from carbohydrate.)”
Do you have to leave out fruit and grains completely?
On an ultra-low carbohydrate plan of less than 50g per day there’s no room for fruit, nor for grains; great for fast weight loss, but isn’t so easy to maintain in the long term. But both these food groups (fruit and grains) provide valuable nutrients, including fibre. In moderation, their inclusion in a healthy balanced diet adds variety, interest and flavour too.
Michael Liebman, the author of the 2014 paper concluded about ultra-low-carb diets: “…many individuals would likely find these types of diets very difficult to adhere to over long periods of time” If you’ve tried to rigorously adhere to an ultra-low-carb diet and eat out socially you’ve experienced the angst. (But if ultra-low-carb works for you, that’s great, I’m happy for you.)
A moderate low-carb diet, in comparison, will enable you to eat fresh fruit every day and at least one, often two serves of grains. To make sure this was possible I created a low-carbohydrate meal plan that included fruit and grains, and as much variety as possible. And I was easily able to stay within the 130g carbohydrate limit. Suddenly, trialling a low-carbohydrate diet doesn’t seem so hard, does it?
What about insulin resistance?
Folk who don’t respond well to ultra-low-carbohydrate diets are those with hyperinsulinemia, where their blood glucose response to carbohydrates can be extreme; and yet their blood glucose levels can remain perilously low without adequate carbohydrate input. No-one wants to live with the blood sugar drop ‘sweats and shakes’ nor the brain fog from inadequate blood glucose.
Your do-able plan in approaching low-carb eating
Armed with this information (and feeling more an a little relieved, I can tell you) I created a week-long meal plan to prove to myself it was liveable and yet healthy: low carbohydrate, low sugar, high fibre, with plenty of fresh unprocessed food, vegetables, fresh fruit, and yes, some grain-based foods too. I was even able to include a café-cappuccino one day without busting the carbohydrate budget.
Then I typed up a meal plan for the week, to stick on the fridge door. Wrote out the recipes, and created a shopping list to make the weekly foraging expedition easier. Then I figured perhaps I should make this meal plan available for you as well. So here it is. If you’d like to try out a healthy, moderate, low carbohydrate meal plan you can purchase it for immediate download here.
Here’s the papers I reviewed