Rita, a 47-year-old financial adviser, was trying to shed some unwanted pounds and drop her blood cholesterol.
Like many people, she vowed to give up carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, which had seemed to help her lose weight in the past.
Which led her to a grilled chicken salad with no dressing at a downtown lunch spot, when what she really wanted was the fettuccine with chorizo sausage and a caesar salad. But did she make the right choice?
Giving up carbs felt like living each day with a dull toothache that eventually ends up in a full-blown painful tooth abscess.
Rita found herself see-sawing between following the low-carb plan and loading up on big portions of comfort starchy foods.
Low-carb plans for weight loss have been around for decades. While they can work for weight loss, sustainability and nutritional adequacy are a big fat challenge.
Carbs are an essential nutrient
Your brain runs exclusively on carbs (you can think of all carbs as single, double and longer chains of sugar). The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in partnership with Health Canada suggests the brains of children and adults need an average minimum amount of carbohydrates of 130 grams per day. This is the equivalent of eating two slices of bread, one cup of rice and several pieces of fruit.
In addition, you need carbs to fuel your muscles for physical activity. Therefore, total daily carbs required for the brain and muscles of adult women and adult men are approximately 180 to 230 grams and 220 to 330 grams of carbohydrate or more respectively.
When carbohydrates are not consumed in sufficient amounts, you may feel tired, anxious or depressed, have difficulty concentrating, or experience muscle fatigue when exercising. If you eat more carbohydrates than your body needs (just as if you eat too much protein or fat), extra calories are stored as body fat.
Also keep in mind that carbohydrates store water on your body. It is not uncommon for low-carb dieters to lose five to 15 pounds of water weight when restricting carbohydrates.
You need a variety of carbs for health
Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, some dairy foods and sweets. Do not be fooled by popular claims that you can skip grains and just eat vegetables and fruit. Grains provide different types of fibre, B-vitamins and other nutrients that are not found in fruits and vegetables. For optimal health, choose a wide variety of foods. If you only eat blueberries and apples each day, you will miss out on the many nutrients found in other fruits.
Deprivation does not work
Carbohydrates are comfort foods that play a direct role in elevating the neurotransmitter serotonin, which boosts mood. Protein-rich foods are not comfort foods for your brain. When was the last time you actually craved eggs, meat or cottage cheese when you were tired, sad or mad?
Carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, sweets and potato chips are, in essence, happy foods the brain craves when you are tired, hungry, mad or sad. Since these foods are very enjoyable and readily available, it is important to manage portions sizes but certainly not eliminate them. If you try to deprive yourself of something enjoyable, chances are you will seek it out, obsess about it and eventually overeat.
Sustainability is critical
Anyone can lose weight, but can you sustain the loss? If your nutrition regime makes going on vacation or attending a dinner party impossible, chances are you won’t stick to it. Refuse to buy into a plan that provides you with a long list of foods that you can’t eat. Avoid plans that require you to eat the same shake or bar every day to be successful.
As Rita found out, in order for her weight loss to be sustainable, she needed to watch portion sizes of starchy foods. She also needed to build in enjoyable foods such as pasta rather than attempting to eliminate them. She discovered that having the grilled chicken salad, but adding a vinaigrette dressing and a bun with butter to her lunch added satisfaction to the meal and helped avoid overeating sweets later in the evening.
Andrea Holwegner, the chocoholic dietitian, owns Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. Visit www.healthstandnutrition.com or phone 403-262-3466 for more information on personalized nutrition counselling, professional speaking and to subscribe to her blog or free monthly ezine.