When we start a diet, we are starting at the end result of a long chain of research, experience, and experimentation. Food isn’t simply good or bad. Most presentations of the “ideal” way to eat had a long road to get there. Because we follow the low-carb method, we felt it was important to take a few steps back and show a small example of why the low-carb diet does what it does.
Many people have certain health complications that can be reversed or improved by following a low-carb diet. This includes diabetes, some cancers, and even autism. Read here for a great list of the main disorders that could benefit from a low-carb or ketogenic diet.
We’ve talked about what low-carb means, what keto means (they are pretty much the same thing), and the differences between the macronutrients so we’ll just glance over those to get to some roots. Along the way, some questions are begged, and that’s what we’re going to talk about!
What is low-carb? Simply put, you have the 3 macronutrients: Fat, Protein, and Carb. Low-carb instinctively means high fat and moderate-high protein. A true low-carb diet would restrict the intake of carbs to under 50 grams a day, ideally under 20 grams. This basically means your dinner plate is packed full of meat and veggies. Here is a great article on the best veggies for a low-carb diet, if you’re interested. And yes, vegetables do fall into the carb category, but in a much different way than a typical starch (bread, legumes, pasta, etc.) does.
What is a carb? Sugar is a carb. But it’s more than that. It’s a refined carb. Oh, we forgot to mention. There’s more than one type of carb. Not to worry! It’s easy to understand. The main types of carbs are separated into the simple category and the complex. It may sound backwards, but the complex carb is the good one and the simple, not so much. A carb is a basic compilation of starch, fiber, and sugar or any combination.
What makes a carb simple or complex? When you understand this, it makes the above statements make sense. A complex carb is dense with nutrients and fiber and low in sugar. It’s harder for your body to convert to glucose. Versus a simple carb, which can be devoid of nutrients and fiber and essentially convert to sugar very quickly – because it is sugar.
What did you mean by “refined” carb? A refined carb is any carb that has been processed in a way that eliminates nutrients and turns the carb into a very basic sugar. Hence, refined white sugar. You may have heard the statement “sugar is sugar” and while we like to simplify things for the sake of understanding, that’s a pretty big simplification. For example, compare a spoon of white table sugar to a spoon of coconut nectar. Both sweet. Both sugar. Shouldn’t they behave similarly in the body once consumed? Not entirely.
Interestingly enough, you can often tell the nutrient level of a carb by its color. Not in every case, but in our particular example, you can actually see the nutrients. Coconut nectar, sometimes called coconut sugar, is a dark brown. Table sugar is pure white. That dark brown color in coconut nectar is actually a representation of its nutrient content. Typically, the darker the carb, the higher the nutrient content.
Here’s another great example. Compare molasses to corn syrup. You can probably guess right off the bat that molasses is better for you, but it’s still a carb. Let’s take a quick look at the nutrition facts.
1 tbsp Molasses: 0g fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 293mg Potassium, and 58 calories plus a decent amount of essential vitamins. SOURCE
1 tbsp Corn Syrup: 0g fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 9mg Potassium, and 57 calories with NO essential vitamins. SOURCE
Both sources of sugar, but with a vastly different chemical makeup. It’s almost literally like night and day. This is a simple comparison to give a good idea of just how different carbs can be.
But to get back to the idea of refined, without going into the specific details of the process of refining, take the above concept and then compare organic, unrefined raw sugar to processed white sugar. A quick google search will show an interesting contrast between the two in color alone. Both from the same plant, but processed differently in a factory and in your body. Be careful though. This isn’t to say that you should be eating sugar just because it's raw and organic. It still has a harmful effect on the body, just less of one.
What’s the difference between a carb and a starch? To call a carb a starch is a general way of saying complex carb. Starches are more difficult to digest, which sounds like a bad thing but actually is beneficial because it is harder to convert to sugar. A simple carb spikes glucose quickly, while a complex carb or starch takes a while to convert. Hence, no sugar high! Most vegetables fall into this category.
Why should I care? Here’s the best and quickest example of “why you should care” that we’ve run across. Many types, perhaps even most types of cancer cannot survive without glucose (sugar). How would it get sugar in the first place? When you feed yourself, you feed the cells in your body, where cancer can possibly be residing. Gives a whole new look to “You are what you eat” doesn’t it?
In addition, the brain performs better on ketones than it does sugar. The ketogenic process of fueling the brain for performance comes down to a high metabolic “burn” of fat versus the same with sugar. Less sugar in the diet means your body has a better chance of burning fat (ketones) for fuel.
Lastly, as we touched on at the start of this, many disorders can be reversed and improved by lessening the amount of sugar in the diet. All carbs have sugar, but some have less than others. It would be fair to say that a low-carb diet is ultimately after a low/no sugar consumption.
At the end of all this, we want to express that when it comes to the science of nutrition, there is always more to learn. Likely, not every question has been covered with this little article (compared to the scholarly articles, this is little indeed!) but our hope is to uncover the mystery one layer at a time. Please feel free to ask any questions for clarification, and we will do our best to give you an answer!