Do you wrap your hamburger in lettuce instead of a bun? Do you blanch at
the thought of a pretzel passing your lips? High-protein, low-carbohydrate
diets are all the rage these days and millions of Americans follow the
advice of so called nutrition gurus (often not registered dieticians or
professionals in the field) promoting “clean eating.”
“It’s a common misconception that carbs make you overweight,” says
Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, health education and weight management manager,
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Fullerton. “Eating a large number of carbs can cause weight gain,
but that holds true for any food. Studies have shown that increasing fiber
in the diet can help with weight loss and keep you full, and the right
carbohydrates are one of the main sources of fiber in the diet, such as
fruit, beans, corn, peas, whole-wheat breads, quinoa and other whole grains.”
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of brain function and energy,
Watkins says. A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine found that
people who followed a low-carbohydrate diet for a year were more depressed,
anxious and angry than people who followed a low-fat, higher carb diet.
Also, a study from Tufts University found that women on a low carbohydrate
diet for a week had impaired memory function, she says.
Watkins, who has 15 years of experience in nutrition, says she has seen
popular fad diets – which often set unrealistic restrictions and
are typically a one-size-fits-all approach – come and go. People
who jump from one fad diet to the next typically have a hard time keeping
the weight off, she says.
As boring as it may sound, it really comes down to calories in versus calories
out when it comes to weight loss, Watkins says. If you consume more calories
than you burn, you will gain weight. Exercise also plays a key role because
you’ll lose weight if you burn off more calories than you’re
Watkins says a low-carb plan can work for people who have a hard time controlling
their portions of pasta, rice and bread. If carbs are your weak spot,
you may be better off giving up certain carbs altogether. The other thing
you can try is limiting yourself to a cup of pasta and adding a bag of
steamed vegetables to fill up your tummy and decrease the number of calories
you’re eating. Also, don’t be fooled by your food labels.
Remember that “gluten free” doesn’t mean carb-free and
is typically not lower in calories. And “organic” or “GMO-free”
does not change the calorie content.
“On the other hand, if you struggle more with eating large portions
of meat and cheese, cutting carbs probably won’t help you,”
she says. “The key is finding what your problem foods are and working
a plan around that.”
It is also important to change up your menu to keep your weight maintenance
goals on track.
“Everyone who tries to lose weight with a ‘eat only these 5
things’ diet risks burning out before they make real progress, due
to the simple fact that your taste buds crave variety,” Watkins
says. “Part of what makes a no-carb diet so difficult to follow
is that bread just tastes good. When you deny yourself the pleasure of
carbs for an extended period, it’s very easy to break the diet in
a big way and end up binging on things like chips and cookies. ”
Watkins is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean you can throw
caution to the wind when it comes to carbs or almost any other food (besides
“You have to be mindful of both your portions and activity levels.
The way to a healthier metabolism and to reducing your risk of obesity-related
diseases like diabetes is to eat less while making sure you get the right
amounts of protein, carbs, and fat. The key is trying to avoid blaming
your weight gain on one specific category of food (such as carbs or gluten).
Try to look at the big picture and figure out when and where you eat the
most and make thoughtful changes around that. Ask your doctor to be referred
to a registered dietitian to help you plan a safe and nutritious weight
How has your doctor or dietitian helped improve your eating habits? Leave
your comments below.
Call (714) 446-5677 to learn more about St. Jude Heritage’s weight
loss programs and sign up for a free Pathway to Healthy Weight orientation;
you’ll learn about the various weight loss programs and find the
right one for you.
Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (20);1873 DOI (Mood Improves on low-fat,
but not low carb diet plan).