Carb-o-holics Anonymous

Every so many years the media revisits one form or another of the low carb diet. It seems so easy doesn’t it? Just don’t eat carbs! Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If you forgo carbohydrates, you inhibit your brain’s ability to produce serotonin, a little neurotransmitter that plays a big role by creating a sense of calm and well-being.

When you consume carbohydrates, your body sends out a burst of tryptophan, an amino acid, which stimulates the production of serotonin. Tryptophan is famously associated with Thanksgiving, attributed to the annual glutting of turkey. While turkey does contain a fair amount of tryptophan, it is comparable to most other meats. The truth is that the holiday slumberfest is largely due to the carbohydrate rich foods that accompany the turkey (cornbread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc.) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tryptophan).

This predictable sense of calm that follows the ingestion of carbs is why people crave them. Your body knows that once you eat that cookie, you’re going to feel that warm, post-carb sensation spread through you. In short, we are all carb-o-holics. Why then, if carbs are such a sure-fire way to bring on the bliss, would someone advise you to cut back?

In the most basic terms, the logic behind low-carb diets is that you’re forcing your body to eat into its stored fat to produce energy.  When you consume carbohydrates, the body also releases insulin into the bloodstream. This insulin triggers cells to absorb sugars and prevents them from releasing fat, there’s no need when sugar can be used for energy instead. However, when more carbohydrates are consumed than the body uses, large quantities of insulin are released, meaning that the body is never given an opportunity to burn off surplus flab. What’s worse, all the absorbed sugars are consequently stored as new fat.

While low or non-fat sources of protein, such as lean meats, eggs, tofu or soy products, beans, legumes and nuts make up the bulk of many low-carb diet plans, a balanced low-carb diet includes many different types of foods. Low starch, nutrient dense vegetables like asparagus, and dark leafy greens are the staple of a low-carb lifestyle. Fruits, especially berries and citrus are excellent sources of antioxidants and the all important vitamin C. Whole grains are important for heart health and digestion. These are all examples of carbs, rich in fiber and low in sugar. Such carbs are absorbed slowly by the body, producing a steady release of serotonin, without being stored as fat.

Is low carb right for everyone? Nope, in fact you’d be hard pressed to find one diet plan that yields universal results. However, it is an option out there that many find success with. Our goal on this blog of course is not dieting or weight loss, but healthy living through a balanced diet. However, we understand that for many people, the catalyst for changing the way they eat is simply to ditch a few pounds

Many people do the low-carb diet incorrectly, banning carbs from their plates entirely and assuming they have carte blanche to  indulge in large portions of fatty meats and cheeses. This isn’t doing your body any favors. For one, reducing the amount of stored fats you take in from extra carbs while helping yourself to fat from meat and dairy puts you right back where you started. Plus, your mental health will suffer in the long run. Diminished serotonin means you’ll feel agitated and cranky.This isn’t to say the low-carb lifestyle doesn’t work, or even that it is unhealthy when done properly, we just want to make people aware that there is a right and a wrong way to go about doing this.

In food and in life the saying holds true, all things are best in moderation.

To Your Health,

-Sharon & Sarah Marcotte

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