Low carbohydrate diets are popular for weight loss, but they may be dangerous. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose – essential fuel for the body, especially the brain. Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred source of energy. High-fibre carbohydrates such as whole grains and fruit play an important role in the health of the gut. The amount of carbohydrate the body needs varies depending on your age, weight and activity levels, but it should make up about half of what you eat and drink over the course of a week.
Research suggests very low carbohydrate diets tend not to lead to long-term weight loss and may lead to other serious health problems.
The basic principle underlying the recommendation to eat fewer carbohydrates is the concern that carbohydrates cause weight gain. This is misleading, because weight gain comes from an excess in overall kilojoules (or calories), which can come from carbohydrate, fat or protein sources.
The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to combine a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy products with daily exercise. For good health most of this should come from starchy carbohydrate, fruits and some dairy foods.
If you do choose to follow a low carbohydrate diet, do not avoid carbohydrates completely as you need some in your diet to metabolise fat. Choose carbohydrate rich foods that are unrefined or unprocessed, including whole grains and fruit, rather than the more refined and energy-dense forms such as cakes, sweets and soft drinks. Have a variety of vegetables daily.
Select a variety of protein-rich foods that are also low in saturated fat, for example:
- lean cuts of red meat
- fish (including fatty fish)
- lean chicken and pork.
You could also select protein-rich foods that are plant based, for example:
- legumes such as beans and pulses
- soy products, including tofu.
Choose fats from plant sources (such as olives, olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, peanut oil, soy or soy oil) rather than from animal sources (butter or meat fat).