The low-carb diet promises to make you healthy and slim by limiting carbohydrates. We will clarify how effective it really is.
Low-carb is a form of nutrition in which the daily carbohydrate intake is restricted, sometimes more, sometimes less. The aim of this method is weight control. Sugar and starchy products rank high on the list of banned foods. These include bread, pasta, rice or potatoes. The amount of carbohydrates allowed varies according to advocates of this method.
A key nutrient in our diet
Carbohydrates are a key nutrient in the nutrition of humans. They provide around 4 kcal per gramme and are mainly found in sugar (mono- and disaccharides) and starch (polysaccharides), as well as in legumes, milk, yoghurt, fruit, vegetables, honey and all sweetened food.
Key sources of energy
Carbohydrates are primarily a source of energy for our body. They are converted into sugar during the digestive process, making them a key source of fuel for the body. If we eat more “energy” than we need, our body keeps the excess as a reserve. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells. Once these storage sites are full, the body converts the carbohydrates into fat. Generally gaining fat is unwanted. That’s why a low-carb diet appears to be effective. The idea behind a low-carb diet is that too many carbohydrates lead to weight gain. A reduction in carbohydrates therefore leads to a reduction in weight.
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Adjust your energy intake
Adjusting your energy intake to your individual needs makes perfect sense – for couch potatoes with an office job need far less energy than top athletes. But even those who have a low energy expenditure shouldn’t go without starchy products and sugar. Because what a lot of people forget about a low-carb diet is that food such as bread consists of a lot more than just carbohydrates. Rather than containing just one nutrient, food generally contains a whole range. For example, a mid-morning snack with bread doesn’t only contain carbohydrates but also vitamins and minerals. Plus, ideally, a significant amount of dietary fibres. The amount of carbohydrates is what counts. Don’t exaggerate on the pasta etc., but don’t cut it out altogether. The optimal plate shows you how to put together a balanced main meal.
The right amount of each food product
The optimal plate has proven to be an effective aid in helping to achieve the right amount of each food product at main mealtimes. Each plate should be made up of two-fifths starch, two-fifths fruit and vegetables, and one-fifth of protein. This amount of starch is enough for low- to medium-impact physical activity. It provides just the right amount of energy.
Prefer wholegrain products. Wholegrain products contain more vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances than refined grain products. They also provide more dietary fibre, which help keeping you saturated longer and regulating your digestion.
How much sugar is acceptable?
The key is everything in moderation, including soft drinks. There’s nothing wrong with a small portion per day. One portion is roughly equivalent to a row of chocolate.
Author: Stéphanie Bieler BSc, Swiss Society for Nutrition SSN
Published on: 7 June 2019
Dietitian Stéphanie Bieler
Stéphanie Bieler (BSc Dietitian, Bern University of Applied Sciences) works at the Swiss Society for Nutrition SSN in Bern. She primarily focuses on maintaining a balanced diet across various age and target groups. Stéphanie Bieler writes articles for Helsana on the topic of nutrition.