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Low carbohydrate diets: Are they the great way to lose weight?

Low carbohydrate diets often help you lose weight initially because they restrict the amount of energy (kilojoules) you eat. While following a low carb diet you’ll probably skip the office treats, reduce some meal sizes (because there is no bread, potato, rice or pasta) and possibly have fewer snacks, too.
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But long term, a low-carb diet is pretty hard to maintain. All of the restriction can lead to binge eating. So while you may lose weight initially, there’s no reliable evidence to say it lasts.

Are they safe?

In a word, no. Carbohydrate foods break down into glucose (a simple sugar) after we eat them. Our body needs glucose to power the brain and many of our organs.

There is variation across low carb diets in severity of carb restriction and total amount of food. Starchy foods may be replaced with either protein or fat. Fruit and milk may be permitted, limited or forbidden.

While severe carbohydrate restriction can be dangerous, the main safety issue is missing essential nutrients when skipping an entire food group (or two or three if fruit and dairy are limited).

Apart from energy the other benefits of carbohydrate foods include:

  • Fibre: you will get some fibre from fruit and veg but wholegrain foods are the highest source.
  • Antioxidants: from wholegrain foods and from a variety of colours of fruit and veg.
  • Calcium: yoghurts and milk (dairy or fortified alternative) are some of the best sources of calcium in the western diet.

Complete nutritionally balanced meals reduce the need for frequent snacking which can lead to unintended overeating.

The consensus?

Instead of a low-carb diet include vegetables, fruit, wholegrains lean dairy and protein foods every day to help you lose weight and while ensuring you get all the nutrients you need to keep your body healthy.

Balanced meals: Try to have some carbohydrates, vegetables and a protein food (such as lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu and low-fat dairy) with each meal. Eating a balanced meal every time you eat will ensure you get all the nutrients you need and help you feel fuller. Livelighter.com.au has a meal and activity planner and many delicious recipes to help you achieve your goals.

Move more: Regular exercise will help you feel energised and shed those extra kilograms.

Eat less processed food: Though strict carbohydrate restriction is unnecessary, and even dangerous, it is beneficial to watch the amount of processed sugar you’re eating (and drinking) and also limit added fats. Pay attention to limiting sugary drinks, processed snacks and white starchy foods (opt for wholegrain). Eat more vegetables, fruit, wholegrain foods, low fat yoghurt, eggs, nuts and fish. Water is the best drink for your waist and your teeth.
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