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Low Carbohydrate Diets: Hype or Healthy?

From Atkins and Paleo to South Beach and the Whole 30, low-carbohydrate diets (LCD) have been popular for decades. Their origin dates back to 1797, when Dr. John Rollo published an Account of Two Cases of Diabetes Mellitus, in which he discussed his experience treating two diabetic Army officers with a high fat, high meat and low carbohydrate diet. Nowadays, reducing carbohydrate consumption has been touted as the quick solution for losing weight and achieving optimal health. Like most “quick-fix” nutrition advice, this oversimplified approach puts individuals at risk of missing out on key nutrients for health promotion and disease prevention.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (alongside fat and protein), and are an important energy source for the cells in our bodies. They can be classified as simple or complex, and can be found naturally in foods or can be added during processing. When added to foods, carbohydrates are commonly referred to as ‘added sugar’, which you can find on nutrition facts labels.

Carbohydrate Sources

Complex

Simple

Starches Naturally Occurring
Grains: Wheat, Rice, Corn, Oats, Barley Fruits & Vegetables
Legumes: Peas, Beans, Lentils Milk
Tubers: Potatoes, Yams Honey & Maple Syrup
   
Fiber Added
Soluble: Citrus, Fruits, Berries, Oats, Beans Candy, Donuts, Baked Goods, Ice Cream, Soda
Insoluble: Whole Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Legumes  

 

Are Low Carbohydrate Diets Better?

While LCDs have been around for decades, research has surprisingly only recently begun looking at the quality of food in LCD studies. As such, the impact of LCDs on weight loss and other health outcomes compared to other diets remains mixed. Notably, a study published in 2018 found no significant difference in weight loss between a healthy low-fat diet versus a healthy low-carb diet, suggesting that diet quality is more important than quantity of fat versus carbohydrate for weight loss.

Another pivotal study examined the impact of what is eaten instead of carbohydrates on mortality. They found a shorter lifespan (higher mortality risk) in people who replaced carbohydrates with animal-based foods and a longer lifespan (lower mortality risk) in those who replaced carbohydrates with plant-based alternatives, such as nuts, nut butter and whole-grain breads. Interestingly, they also found lifespan to be greatest among people who ate 50-55% of their calories from carbohydrates, suggesting that LCDs may not be the magic bullet after all!

The Bottom Line

  1. Source matters! Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Foods containing complex carbohydrates chock-full of fiber and nutrients will have a different impact on health when compared to foods high in added sugars. Replacing processed carbohydrates with unprocessed carbohydrates will benefit health.
  2. Quality is more important than quantity. Obtaining carbohydrates from healthy sources (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes) is more important for health than the quantity of carbohydrates consumed daily.
  3. Carbohydrates are not evil. Evidence supports fiber and nutrients in carbohydrates are health-promoting, and thus high-quality carbohydrates can be part of a healthy dietary pattern. More importantly, you may miss out on important vitamins and minerals by completely eliminating all carbohydrates from your diet.

Nicole Schultz Ninteau is the Physical Capital Resources Manager with Schultz Financial Group Inc.

Schultz Financial Group Inc. (SFG) is a wealth management firm located in Reno, NV. Our approach to wealth management is different from many other wealth managers, financial advisors, and financial planners. Our team of fee-only fiduciaries strives to help our clients build their wealth across four capitals: Financial Matters, Physical Well-being, Psychological Space, and Intellectual Engagement. We provide family office and wealth management services to clients located in Nevada, California, and other states. If you’d like more information, please check out our website or reach out to us via our contact page.

References:

  • Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, Hauser ME, Rigdon J, Ioannidis JPA, Desai M, King AC. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018 Feb 20;319(7):667-679.
  • Seidelmann SB, Claggett B, Cheng S, Henglin M, Shah A, Steffen LM, Folsom AR, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Solomon SD. Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. Lancet Public Health. 2018 Sep;3(9):e419-e428.
  • Schultz Financial Group, Inc. (“SFG”) which is a registered investment adviser, drafted this blog post for its website and for the use of its clients or potential clients. Any other distribution of this blog post is strictly prohibited. Registration as an investment adviser is not an endorsement by securities regulators and does not imply that SFG has attained a certain level of skill, training, or ability. While the content presented is believed to be factual and up to date, it is based on information obtained from a variety of sources. SFG believes this information is reliable, however, it has not necessarily been independently verified. SFG does not guarantee the complete accuracy of all data in this blog post, and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of SFG as of the date of publication and are subject to change. This blog post does not constitute personalized advice from SFG or its affiliated investment professionals, or a solicitation to execute specific securities transactions. SFG is not a law firm and does not intend for any content to be construed as legal advice. Readers should not use any of this content as the sole basis for any investment, financial planning, tax, legal or other decisions. Rather, SFG recommends that readers consult SFG and their other professional advisers (including their lawyers and accountants) and consider independent due diligence before implementing any of the options directly or indirectly referenced in this blog post. Past performance does not guarantee future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss, and different investments and types of investments involve varying degrees of risk. There can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment or investment strategy, including those undertaken or recommended by SFG, will be profitable or equal any historical performance level. Any index performance data directly or indirectly referenced in this blog post is based on data from the respective copyright holders, trademark holders, or publication/distribution right owners of each index. The indexes do not reflect the deduction of transaction fees, custodial charges, or management fees, which would decrease historical performance results. Indexes are unmanaged, and investors cannot invest directly in an index. Additional information about SFG, including its Form ADV Part 2A describing its services, fees, and applicable conflicts of interest and Form CRS is available upon request and at https://adviserinfo.sec.gov/firm/summary/108724.

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