Cutting carbohydrates (carbs) might help you lose weight in the short term,4 but it’s mostly because you are eating less food and fewer calories. Drastically cutting carbs means you’ll miss out on the nutritional benefits of healthy choices like whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and legumes.5 Because so many foods are off-limits, it can be tough to stick with low-carb diets for very long. The best weight-loss plan is one you can stick with. To lose weight and keep it off, exerciser egularly and use Canada’s Food Guide to plan a balanced diet with good food choices in the right amounts for you.7
Should I try a low carbohydrate diet to lose weight?
Low carbohydrate diets restrict the intake of carbohydrate-containing foods like breads, cereals, pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables, and milk products, as well as sugary foods like sugar, candy, syrups, jams and jellies, while including generous amounts of protein and fat. However, not all low-carb diets are created equal—some encourage leaner meats and healthier fats, while others permit bacon, butter and other foods high in saturated fats. Some severely restrict carbohydrates, while others allow limited amounts.
Studies demonstrate that, in the short term, weight loss can be achieved on low carbohydrate diets. However, the amount of weight lost on either low-carb or high-carb diets is the same when total calories are equal, which shows that it is your total calories that is most important in weight management.
Many people find it difficult to stay on low-carb diets for long periods of time because food choices are so limited. They soon find themselves returning to their old eating habits. This can make these diets a poor choice for long-term weight loss. Regardless of which diet approach is best for any individual, permanent lifestyle changes in eating and physical activity are needed to prevent weight regain.
What are the down-sides of following a low carb diet?
- It lacks variety and can be unsatisfying.
- Our bodies need carbohydrate for energy and optimal brain function.
- Carbohydrate foods contain vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and magnesium. Strictly avoiding carbohydrates puts you at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
- Carbohydrates are an important source of fibre, which helps maintain blood sugar, reduces cholesterol, and supports good bowel function.
Recognized authorities on diet and health including the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution consumers to consider the potential hazards associated with eliminating high-carbohydrate, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, milk and legumes. Some concerns have been raised about the impact of low-carbohydrate diets on kidney function, bone health, and risk of heart disease. More research is needed to determine if these concerns are warranted.
See your doctor or a registered dietitian if you do follow a low carbohydrate diet or are considering this type of eating plan.
Effective Weight Loss Tips
Research focused on ‘successful losers’, or people who have lost weight and maintained their weight loss, indicates the following strategies can help take it off and keep it off without compromising health:
- Control your portions Pay attention to portion sizes
- Enjoy a balanced diet that includes carbohydrate-rich foods like vegetables and fruits that are low in calories but high in fibre and nutrients. They’ll fill you up and keep you from over-eating.
- Eat breakfast
- Be aware of liquid calories from soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas, juice drinks, etc.
- Get moving and be physically active on most days of the week. You’ll burn calories and boost your energy.
- Be aware of your eating and activity habits. Track your food choices and your activity level in a journal or on-line tracker. Weigh yourself periodically.
- Go slow. Healthy weight loss is one to two pounds a week.
- Expect challenges. Weight loss is a process—it takes time, patience and effort.