Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Low Carb Dieting: The Final Word?

One of my favorite authors is Jonny Bowden, a well-known nutritionist in Southern California. Jonny Bowden wrote the book, "150 Healthiest Foods On Earth" and it is arguably one of the best written publications on the healthiest food choices. I bought several copies earlier this year and gave them to clients and friends. I wrote about his book multiple times on this blog. I read it myself practically every day. It's been my food Bible.

So when I picked up the March/April 2010 issue of Pilates Style, I was thrilled to see a large, feature article by Jonny Bowden. Even better was the fact that the topic is one that is near and dear to my heart: the effectiveness of low carb eating.

I have been on a low carb eating plan for almost two months. I eat very few carbs, most of which are vegetables and nuts. I eat a lot of protein. I don't eat sugar. I like eating this way, although I can't say I'll do it forever. But Jonny Bowden thinks that maybe I should.
And so should everyone else.

Let's start with a little background on the low carb trend.

In 2004, it seemed that low carb diets were at the top of the charts. The Atkins diet had just been shown to produce more weight loss than either a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet in a study published by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Many other studies around low carb eating showed improvements in triglyceride levels, body composition and reduced risk factors of diabetes.

Low carb was fast becoming the darling of the dieting world. The Zone and The South Beach Diet were both born from the low carb movement. Everyone knew at least one person on Atkins.

And then low carb eating faded, as starches came back en vogue.

According to Bowden, the words "low carb" simply fizzled in the media and in the mainstream. However, Bowden states that, "low carb is wildly effective, perfectly safe and has enormous health benefits." He goes on to say, "Low carb is alive and well, and if you're one the of folks who's historically dismissed it, you may want to take another look."

I've always wondered how low you should go, in terms of carbs. Currently, I eat anywhere from 20 to 40 a day, depending on my physical output and my appetite. The ADA (American Dietetic Association) designates a low carb diet as less than 130 carbohydrates a day. Bowden hardly considers this as "low." But it does provide good framework for a baseline, considering that Americans consume, on average, 300 carbs a day!

Bowden believes that you can get the most of controlled-carb eating and still eat up to 100 carbohydrates a day. He goes on to report that a copious amount of research supports the notion that even a modest reduction in carb intake is enough to stabilize blood sugar, reduce insulin and facilitate weight loss.

In fact, the highlight of the article - in my opinion - is Bowden's statement about simple carb consciousness: "Merely attempting to reduce carbs resulted in vast improvements in weight and overall heath among dieters in several, large scale studies."

One interesting thing that I have noticed in my own low carb eating, is that my mood has shifted dramatically. Once a slave to blood sugar dips and climbs, I am much more stable all day long. I no longer have a need for afternoon caffeine and my energy stays consistently high throughout most days. Bowden says that these improvements are due to insulin sensitivity improvement. He calls it "the dietary trifecta," meaning that insulin is balanced, pounds are being shed and there isn't that ravenous, "I have to eat right now" feeling. I call it pretty darn great.

To tie the issue up with the largest, prettiest bow possible, take note of this next finding. Bowden concludes the article by saying, "Remember, hard as it is to believe, your body has no physiological requirement for carbohydrates." If you're looking to lose weight, Bowden advises to get the vast majority of your carbs from vegetables and fruits, and not from pasta, rice, bread, baked goods, cereal and desserts.

The blueprint for weight loss, Bowden says, is this:

Carbohydrates: 100 to 130 a day (endless amounts of vegetables and berries and some melon)

Protein: 100 to 120 grams a day (poultry, seafood, lean cuts of red meat)

Fat: 60 grams ("good" fats such as olive oil, nuts, flax and avocado)

I was completely encouraged and heartened by this article. It's good to know also, that I can start to increase my carb consumption without giving up the many health benefits that I'm already experiencing.

My advice to my clients, based on this research, is to experiment with low carb eating as it seems appropriate. A gentle start might be replacing your lunch time sandwich with a salad and some protein. Gradually try weaning off of morning cereal and opt for high quality protein sources such as eggs or cottage cheese.

One meal at a time, one day at a time. Always the best approach to any successful dieting program!