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.
|Grains: Wheat, Rice, Corn, Oats, Barley
||Fruits & Vegetables
|Legumes: Peas, Beans, Lentils
|Tubers: Potatoes, Yams
||Honey & Maple Syrup
|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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.