WHO spoke to health and sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to find out why so many people have it in for carbohydrates and if it's worth your while looking into adopting the low carb lifestyle.
What exactly is a low carb diet?
Olivia: Any diet which restricts intake of carbohydrate based food, such as bread, pasta and rice, in favour of alternatives such as protein or fat, can be termed a low carb diet, with typically the proportion of carbs being less than 20-25%.
What is the history of the low carb diet?
Olivia: Long before Atkins became popular, the first low carb diet was crafted by Mr Banting and Dr Harvey, the former being a co-founder of insulin, in 1861. It became popular via Dr Atkins in 1972, and is now considered to be the leading revolutionary dietary shift in the 21st century.
Are there Different Types of Low Carb Diets?
Olivia: Yes, low carb, high fat (LCHF), ketogenic (very low carb / high fat), Atkins, low carb, no carb, low carb paleo, low carb Mediterranean! Many different functions all with a similar principle: restrict carbs in favour of other macronutrients.
How does it Work (scientifically speaking)?
Olivia: The body must utilise fat for fuel, a process termed lipolysis, as there is insufficient carbohydrates to do so. This can come from dietary fat, however, it also is drawn from stored fat which explains fat loss and overall weight loss. Further, the body also uses protein as a source of energy, but fortunately, the body favours fat first - so we are more likely to lose fat rather than burn up our hard earned muscle tone from training at the gym - phew!
Does it work for weight loss?
Olivia: For regular low carb diets, which maintain occasional intake of healthy carbs from brown rice, sweet potato, fruit, yes. This is appropriate for weight loss, is sustainable long term and won't cause you social discomfort.
Is it safe?
Olivia: Keto diets, although causing more rapid weight loss, are too catastrophic for health - such extreme restriction can cause both emotional and social problems, which long term causes stress, and is likely to result in you bingeing and feeling guilty later. This creates an unhealthy relationship with food, which can equate to eating disorders later down the track.
What are the Health Benefits?
Olivia: Given the rising epidemic of sleeping problems, it is imperative to note a recent study involving over 3,000 individuals found that a high carbohydrate diet predicted poor sleep quality. Further, researchers also pinpoint fat loss, weight loss, improved muscle definition, a decreased insulin and blood sugar levels (which can contribute to mood swings) to be amongst the benefits.
What are the dangers/side effects?
Olivia: If too extreme, low carb diets (such as the Keto diet) can strain the liver and kidneys, which causes problems with detoxification and dysfunction of the organ itself. It can be tricky to get the nutritional balance right, which can also lead to excessive consumption of fat and lead to high cholesterol. Finally, it can be socially challenging, for group dinners or when you say no to grandma’s apple pie.
Can you drink Alcohol?
Olivia: Spirits with soda are acceptable. Beer, wine, cider, champagne or cocktails are not. Make your spirit + soda drink a little more enticing with sprigs of mint, slices of orange and wedges of cucumber - personal favourite that one!
What can't you eat (high carb foods)?
What Can You Eat (low carb foods)?
Coconut and extra virgin olive oil
Raspberries and blueberries
Sample Meal Plan
Low carb breakfast: Avocado with two soft boiled eggs
Low carb lunch: Grilled chicken with vegetables
Low carb dinner: Bunless burgers
Low carb recipes example
String cheese (try Bega Stringers)
1 head iceberg lettuce
Sliced cheese (optional)
500g mince beef
1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
Tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 egg, beaten
Teaspoon onion powder
Teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to season
Mix mince, garlic, onion, egg, worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper together well in a bowl.
Make into patties and cook for 5 minutes each side on a medium-high grill.
Pull apart the iceberg lettuce ensuring leaves are left in tact.
Use lettuce as the bun and layer up the burger to your liking!
About Olivia Arezzolo
Specialising in sleep, Olivia uses her background in nutrition, physiology and psychology to improve energy, reduce stress and optimise productivity.